Once you’ve engaged outside counsel, your main concern is likely how to maintain legal cost control while keeping quality high. One way to extract the most value from your outside counsel relationship is to streamline your legal process management (LPM) from beginning to end.
Don’t know where to start? Here are five tips on how to onboard your outside counsel in a way that maximizes efficiency, manages risk and eliminates wasteful double-work.
1. Get organized
Before you can start giving outside counsel the details of your matter, you should try to get as much as possible done in-house. This doesn’t mean taking on work that a law firm attorney would specialize in, but instead completing tasks that are better handled by someone with in-depth knowledge of your business and the matter’s progress up to this point (you!).
To communicate effectively with your outside law firm, you should incorporate legal process management best practices by organizing your internal knowledge and documents in a way that can be easily accessed by the law firm’s attorneys. This includes putting together items like a comprehensive matter summary and a data room to electronically hand over files and documents (keep reading for more tips on these).
These steps ensure that important information is not scattered across various emails in the inbox of a lawyer who’s working on a dozen other matters at the same time. What’s more, if you communicate your business strategies up front, your outside counsel can more efficiently develop a legal strategy that will ensure legal cost control and get you where you want to go.
This includes deciding exactly which tasks you want the outside law firm to undertake. Clear delineation of responsibilities will streamline decision-making and reduce lag time between Point A and Point B.
2. Keep it simple
Think of yourself as the gatekeeper of your company’s institutional knowledge. You want to give your outside counsel enough information to get the job done, but too much can be like drinking from a fire hose. Your task is to communicate the right information to the right people at the right time, allowing outside counsel to focus on the strategic goal at hand.
Standardizing your approach will also lead to more predictable results, reducing risk for your company in addition to following legal cost control practices.
3. Make your objectives clear
You’ve heard it a million times: communication is key. It’s important to convey both your legal and business strategy clearly, so your outside counsel knows where they fit in. It’s also important to communicate with your own team so you don’t have to be the only go-between.
The principles of project management also apply to managing an outside law firm’s work. It’s important to define the project’s scope and identify the work that needs to be done to achieve a satisfactory outcome. You might also find it helpful to organize tasks by strategic value to the matter.
When divvying up spheres of responsibility, recognize what outside counsel can do better. If you’re consulting a specialist, you should let them handle the legal issues that lie squarely in their expertise. This could be developing a detailed case strategy or negotiating market terms on behalf of your company in a transaction.
All in all, communication simplifies the task of monitoring outside counsel and making sure the matter is on track to completion.
4. Prepare a matter summary
A matter summary should be an easily digestible overview of the case or transaction at hand. A good matter summary is essential to transferring knowledge to outside counsel efficiently and comprehensively.
The summary doesn’t need to be exhaustive – after all, you’ll still be available for questions. However, it’s only to your benefit to organize the information so that it can be scanned quickly and passed along to other attorneys working on the matter.
The document should include:
A timeline of events and key developments
A list of key people involved
What strategic business concerns you have
Bottom line: The more your outside counsel understands your business, the easier it is for them to help you achieve your business goals.
5. Leverage technology
When it comes to a data room, traditional content management systems are often clunky and unreliable. Consider a document sharing service like Dropbox or Box that has easy-to-use, intuitive interfaces and will streamline legal process management. Just be sure that their security and other features (like folder permissions and the ability to track views and changes in documents) meet your needs.
Regardless of what platform you choose, don’t just do a file dump and hand over the password. Pre-sort relevant documents into folders like “Material Contracts” or “Communications with Opposing Counsel” to help outside counsel locate items for review more quickly and efficiently, so you don’t get billed for time spent searching for a document.
Sharing documents up front eliminates the back-and-forth between you and outside counsel trying to get the right information to push your legal strategy forward, as well as mitigating the risk that an important document will be overlooked. Inevitably, you will need to respond to requests for additional information. With a document sharing service, you can easily add access to any original sources as necessary throughout the life of the matter.
When signing contracts, consider using Docusign instead of shipping original pages back and forth by FedEx. This also makes it easier to fix typos or last-minute issues without holding up the closing.
BONUS: The Two-Minute Rule
There’s nothing more frustrating than an attorney who takes too long to respond. Of course, there’s a good chance that, like you, your outside counsel is working on a number of different matters at any given time. So it’s always helpful to set expectations about response times, in both directions.
When you’re thinking about your own response time, consider switching costs. That is, if you can respond immediately to a question from outside counsel, it reduces the chance that he or she will have moved on to another matter and will therefore require additional time to return to focus on yours. Of course it’s not always possible to respond quickly, but a good productivity rule of thumb is that if a question will take fewer than two minutes to respond to, it's most efficient for you to answer it immediately. That’s because it’ll take longer to remember to revisit it and then review it than it would to just answer it the first time you receive it.