Although e-billing is playing a role in the commercial relationship between a growing number of UK/European in-house legal departments and their law firms, there are still many organisations that aren’t yet reaping the benefits of e-billing. It’s often said that numerous non-US organisations don’t “get” the value of e-billing. I believe, it’s not that they don’t “get it”, rather the e-billing solutions, until recently, didn’t necessarily deliver against the needs of European organisations.
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I’m often asked by lawyers, especially working for an in-house legal team, to send them a physical copy of the newly agreed contract for a deal with a ‘wet ink’ signature. I’m informed that it’s corporate policy and it baffles me! I can send the document with a digital signature via email within minutes, but to send the same via post, I need to scan the 30-40 pages, print, sign and then post. On receiving the document, the lawyer likely follows the same process to send a signed copy back.
Aside from it being a highly inefficient and cumbersome process, in today’s technology-driven world, there’s a business rationale behind digital signatures:
In a law firm, keeping paper records is a major expense, and a relentless cause of inefficiency and risk. Based on a survey of nearly 200 US law firms across size and geography, half of all lawyers still prefer to work with paper, so most firms continue to accept the precedent of files, folders, boxes, file rooms and offsite records storage.
With an eye towards budget predictability and managing risk, many in-house legal departments are looking to implement alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) with outside counsel as an element of legal spend management.
There was a time when any arrangement outside straight billable hours was unheard-of, today a greater number of law firms are now open to AFAs – in fact, they have no choice. The issue, therefore, has become one of structuring the best fee arrangements – one that both parties agree to, aligns with the goals and financial requirements of each, and is based upon accurate historical data to give the legal department confidence that the arrangement is intelligent and appropriate.
The benefits of privately hosted systems are many – ability to scale up or down, technical support, cost-effectiveness and business continuity. I’ll steer clear of using the term ‘cloud based’ because it’s become a highly emotive and suspiciously regarded term by the legal market.
However, there’s commercial merit in using a hosted systems supplier, not necessarily for production systems’ environments, but as a suitable, alternative solution for non-production environments, such as test, development, archive and training. By selectively locating these ‘other’ server environments on to a hosted platform; and outsourcing the maintenance of business solutions (i.e. document management, CRM, practice management, etc.) to an external, securely administered platform of remote data centres (e.g. Microsoft Azure) – law firms can reduce costs and improve efficiency.
Cloud computing is gathering momentum in the legal sector – organisations can’t ignore the benefits of low costs and flexibility offered by this technology. From talking to firms, for many the toss up is between Software as a Service (SaaS) and Hosted models of cloud computing. Both cloud computing standards have valid reasons to exist of course, but firms should carefully evaluate the merits of each and suitability to their needs before committing to either model.
Recently, I met the head of an in-house legal department at an organisation who mentioned that they were in the process of renegotiating many of their contracts because they simply couldn’t find the documents in question! Surprising though it may sound, in reality it isn’t.