Advances in technology offer both benefits and challenges to legal firms and in-house legal teams. Much of traditional legal work is surprisingly repetitive, but we don’t like to think of it that way as our clients are individual as are their needs. However, business processes such as managing contracts and invoicing can be streamlined, to free up your in-house legal team to concentrate on the value-add work of dealing with the problems faced by clients and creating strategies to support them.
Here, Richard Dalby of Halebury – your external in-house legal team – discusses two key technologies that can really benefit legal firms and in-house legal teams alike; contract management systems and e-billing & accounting.
E-Billing & Accounting
Billing and accounting are a vital part of any legal business. Electronic invoicing (or e-billing) is fast becoming an established way of working between legal companies and their clients. It’s not only happening within the legal industry, but any companies that offer recurring services could look to use the likes of Bill Forward and other billing solutions to automatically bill their customers and clients. Clients are automatically sent legal invoices, which they receive electronically. The e-billing software workflow lets clients review and approve invoices while having everything in one place means they can analyse and control spending more easily.
Using technology to examine invoices for outsourced legal work allows in-house teams to account directly for their outsourcing budget and make cost savings where it is clear that value for money is not being achieved. Full legal billing needs to be done in collaboration between the legal services provider and client; to make sure the right information is being recorded and shared. Once that is in place, however, the benefits of using a law firm accounting company are many – it streamlines the entire legal invoicing process, increases accounting capability of legal service providers, delivers in-depth law firm performance metrics, improves decision-making and risk management; and reduces unnecessary costs.
Contract Management Software
Contract management software (CMS) is a system used for the storage and management of legal agreements throughout their lifecycle. A CMS allows you to see, in one place, the progress of a contract and what stage the account is at. All members of the team (legal and administrative) can see the same information, so communication across the team is simplified.
Contract management systems can offer many process improvements; including full document automation and ‘business self-service’, which is like self-checkout at the supermarket! Standard contracts can be filled out by business users themselves – thereby freeing up the legal team from routine work and more able to concentrate on higher value work.
Types of contract management software include traditional document management systems, enterprise content management systems, and headless content management systems (CMS). Headless CMS is a type of CMS that does not come with a preset user interface, allowing developers to create custom front-end experiences for their users. This allows businesses to have more control over the look and feel of their contracts and other documents. Those interested to learn more about it can find a guide to headless CMS platforms here.
The IACCM (the International Association for Contract and Commercial Management) has estimated that a CMS can speed up the negotiation process by up to 50 per cent, and reduce operating and processing costs by 10-30 per cent. Even if these figures seem over-stated, they indicate that a large chunk of valuable time can be saved on routine tasks. Therefore, once implemented a CMS can pay for itself many times over.
Further, the quality of the output can be improved by standardising contracts and the process of creating them. This means the business is less exposed to risk and can yield maximum financial gain from the efficiencies gained.
The process of setting up a CMS may seem daunting – uploading existing contracts into one place; but is an excellent process to go through. Thinking through your existing processes, refining them and reviewing existing contracts is a good discipline. A good CMS will integrate with other systems (e.g. for invoicing and sales), and getting all your business processes streamlined will keep you fully on top of your legal business.
Once established, your CMS can be configured to send alerts and notifications at important stages of the process. And many solutions offer hugely powerful reporting and analytical capabilities.