What Exactly is “Routine” Legal Work?

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By Paige Zandri
| Legal Process Management

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Using a big law firm for all of your legal work can get expensive. Identifying what is “routine” legal work can be an important first step in scaling your legal budget, especially when you’re deciding how to allocate resources to outside counsel. If you’re trying to practice legal cost control without sacrificing quality, you might consider sending your routine legal work to a lower-cost (but carefully vetted) small law firm. But separating routine from non-routine legal work can be tricky. Here are some tips on how to navigate the gray area.

1. What matters do you see most?

Recurring legal matters are a great starting point to begin safely utilizing the skills and experience of a smaller, less expensive firm. This type of routine legal work often serves as the foundation for establishing a strong relationship with new outside counsel and building the kind of trust you may already have with your current outside counsel. Identify the matters your existing outside counsel is handling for you on a recurring basis and analyze the costs and benefits of having them do that work. Can that work easily be transferred to a less expensive firm that might even give you more personalized service? If so, save your more expensive firm for one-off or high-stakes legal situations.

2. Understand that “routine” is relative

Understanding your industry, market and business model will help you determine which issues will pop up often and will be important when identifying the appropriate outside counsel. What’s routine for a SaaS company is not necessarily what’s routine for a biomedical engineering company. After you determine that you have routine legal work and could benefit from a more cost-efficient solution, you should narrow your search to legal service providers that have experience in the relevant subject matter, since small firms and solo practitioners often offer highly specialized services. Priori Legal can help you find a reasonably priced small-firm attorney with just the experience you need.

3. Play to your strengths

Analyze what kind of expertise you have in-house. If you have an IP specialist on staff, for example, then closely managing outside counsel for a patent prosecution should be relatively straightforward. In this case you might gravitate toward a smaller firm that will work closely with you. On the other hand, if your in-house counsel is a mergers and acquisitions expert, you may want to go with a larger firm with a generalist who can intermediate between your counsel and the firm’s IP specialist who will handle the work.

4. Assess predictability

How predictable is the matter’s outcome? Do you have a “playbook” for a particular set of issues? If a project or matter you’re managing is similar to past matters you’ve successfully resolved (such as cease-and-desist letters or recurring contract review), then you probably have a process in place that can be shared with a smaller-scale, outside firm that can handle these predictable situations under your guidance.

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Scaling your legal budget by using less expensive legal service providers for certain matters can feel risky. But, if you are able to identify routine legal work, you are one step closer to building a more efficient legal operation for your organization. You will also be well served by taking a moment to fully understand the level of skill, accessibility and oversight your company’s legal matters require. The time you invest in evaluating your legal needs will help set your company’s legal function on a sustainable path for success.

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