Practical Tips for Using Outside Counsel Guidelines

by | Feb 11, 2016

Practical Tips for Using Outside Counsel Guidelines

The cornerstone of a productive client and outside counsel relationship starts by setting clear and consistent expectations for the legal department at the outset of the client engagement. So says, Kelly Spratt-Szarzynski, senior strategic consultant on the LexisNexis® CounselLink® team.

This involves developing an outside counsel guidelines document that formally communicates the legal department expectations.  These guidelines apply to all external legal vendors and helps hold all parties accountable to the same set of standards related to billing, matter management and corporate policies.

Ms. Spratt-Szarzynski, offered these insights during a webinar titled: The Strategic Value of Outside Counsel Guidelines.

She says the key to developing useful outside counsel guidelines starts by having internal conversations about what specific policies, processes and procedures are most important to the legal department and outlining how they will be enforced:

“These documents provide a great opportunity for legal departments to hone in on what processes need to be communicated to external law firms as well as helping to drive adoption of the processes, both internally and externally.”

The guidelines also helps promote better communication and efficiency not only between the legal department and their outside law firms, but also within the legal department.

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8 tips for Creating Strategic Outside Counsel Guidelines

What to Include in Outside Counsel Guidelines

According to Ms. Spratt-Szarzynski, outside counsel guidelines generally contain information broken into the following three categories:

  • Processes and Procedures. This portion of the document is usually related to: matter acceptance, conflict checking, case assessment expectations, status reporting, matter disposition and matter staffing.
  • Requirements. Requirements are most frequently covered in outside counsel guidelines because, as the title states, they are required by the legal department in order to conduct business. This portion generally includes: invoicing guidelines and expectations, offering rates related to AFAs or any discounts and enforcement and restriction of them, items that will not be paid and data points to be collected.
  • Policies. This portion of the document typically addresses any company policies related to: security, compliance, diversity, handling of media or company travel policies, etc.

Pitfalls to Avoid in Outside Counsel Guidelines  

Guidelines tend be rather long and all encompassing. Some companies prefer to keep them more sleek and streamlined. However, Ms. Spratt-Szarzynski, cautions, if the document is more streamlined, it’s important to make sure this information is captured in some other way. She recommends using one standard document with a number of appendixes, as opposed to making several separate Guidelines documents.

She says there are three common pitfalls:

  • Beware of Creating Multiple Documents. Creating multiple, smaller guidelines documents based on practice area or business unit, may seem more manageable, but the opposite is true. In other words, the time and administrative effort involved in managing multiple documents can lead to wasted time and inefficiency. A better bet, is to keep one document and add appendixes, as needed.
  • Not Using Guidelines to Capture Usable Data. Although less frequently captured by the legal department, collecting key data points is critical, says Ms. Spratt-Szarzynski, because the data can be used to drive future strategic decisions (such as identifying areas for increased efficiency and/or helping inform the law firm review or scorecard process, etc.) The legal department can then use this information to move the department further along on the maturity In essence, the document needs to clearly explain what data needs to be captured and the legal department needs to strictly enforce these rules so outside firms comply.
  • Lack of Internal Support and Enforcement. The outside counsel guidelines document is only as good as those who use it. This, says Ms. Spratt-Szarzynski, should start internally within the legal department. If members of the legal team are not enforcing the policies outlined it the document, it could spell trouble. In other words, regular communication about the Guidelines should happen internally, as well as any necessary staff training, to ensure all members of the legal team are on the same page.

The main goal of the Outside Counsel Guidelines document, says Ms. Spratt-Szarzynski, is to foster better collaboration between the needs of the legal department and their outside law firm partners:

 “Always make sure the Guidelines document is your own and spell out any important processes and procedures using language that fosters collaborations, this helps lessen confusion all around.”


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Photo credit:  Flickr, Karen Neoh, Handrail (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Carla Del Bove
Carla Del Bove

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