“The bane of our existence.” That is how one law firm general counsel described outside counsel guidelines (OCGs) at last year’s Law Firm General Counsel Forum at the Aon Law Firm Symposium. Bane or boon, if you work in a law firm environment, OCGs are a daily fact of life.
Clients use OCGs to communicate expectations regarding the handling of their matters. Ensuring that OCGs make it to the right people is critical. Accuracy in timekeeping along with a proper understanding of correct phase/task/activity codes, narrative requirements, and timing restrictions cannot be overstated. Knowing and doing are two different things, however, which points to an even larger question. How does the firm ensure compliance with OCGs?
One thing is obvious. This is not just a problem for the billing department or billing attorney to solve in a vacuum. What is needed is a defined – and consistent – process for review and approval of OCGs. Involving the office of the firm’s general counsel before agreeing to OCGs is a great place to start. Then, working in conjunction with finance and the billing attorney, consensus can be reached as to what the firm will agree to do and, perhaps more importantly, not do.
It is also important to remember that OCGs are more than just billing instructions. They also often include specific terms that dictate how affiliated companies are to be treated for conflicts purposes. Many times those broad definitions of who a firm must treat as a client are very limiting when it comes to new client engagements. Thus knowing what is in the OCGs is critically important when it comes time to open new files for new clients.
With those things in mind, what tools are firms using to track compliance with OCGs? Depending on the size of the firm, a simple spreadsheet may suffice. Most likely, however, those days are long gone. Many firms, including mine, maintain a centralized repository of OCGs, along with relevant context, within their document management system (DMS). Linking to a workspace within the DMS from the intranet is a simple solution utilized by numerous firms. Others use a hybrid approach, taking advantage of AI-powered engines in tools like Kira to help identify and define relevant clauses in the OCGs.
As technology evolves, many are taking a more aggressive approach with tools tailored specifically to the management of OCGs. One of the early players in the space was IntApp with their 2016 Terms offering. Terms utilizes the “AI-based characterization of client terms” to help ensure that contents of the OCGs are known. In 2018, Bellefield launched OCG Live. Subsequently acquired by Aderant, the tool promises “compliance at the time of entry” and even provides a one-page summary of all relevant client billing guidelines to timekeepers. Law company Elevate offers automation in their Ecosystem Legal Management Platform to flag billing entries that do not conform to OCGs.
OCGs are not going away. Knowing what the firm has agreed to comply with as part of OCGs is critical, as is how client affiliates are to be treated for conflicts purposes. Putting a system in place to ensure that those responsibilities are deciphered and disseminated is critical. Finding the right tool to fit your specific firm’s needs takes a bit of effort but is well worth it to ensure successful client relationships.
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