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Corporate Counsel Connect collection

March 2015 edition

Don't throw your legal matter management system "in the garage": Tips for making the most of your software.

Patrick Johnson, JD , Serengeti Law

Patrick JohnsonRemember in fifth grade when you received a brand-new clarinet for band and had wild dreams of becoming the next Kenny G.? (Ok, maybe it was an electric guitar and Jimi Hendrix. You're cooler than me. Point made.) At first you practiced diligently, torturing all within ear-shot. Soon you realized becoming the next Kenny G. takes some time, patience, and training. Right about that time the clarinet found a new home that it would never again leave – the garage.

Many legal departments have gone through a good deal of effort choosing an ebilling/matter management system, experienced the initial burst of excitement getting the system setup and configured, only to effectively put it in the garage. It likely does a few things that you want; maybe some of the invoices are going through it and most matters are in there (the equivalent of learning "Greensleeves"), but it's being neglected and there is no momentum in the legal department to improve use of the system. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your purchased system and keep it out of the garage.

To begin with, a team needs to be assembled preferably before implementation to decide how best to configure the system. First and foremost, a decision-maker in the legal department needs to be on board. This can be the general counsel or someone that she has assigned her authority for this project. If the rest of the legal department isn't made to believe this project is a priority for their boss, the odds of a systemic change in the way the legal department operates goes way down. For a large legal department, you may want a representative from each major practice area to give input into the configuration of the system. It's important to get someone from the accounts payable department on board (or finance depending on how your company is structured) to discuss how invoices will be dealt with. Include someone from IT, especially if there will be integrations with the system. Having this team in place gives the project authority within the department and also includes all other stakeholders so there are no surprises down the road.

So you have your team, let's say you've gone through implementation and have the system up and running with some core functionality you need for your department. This is good. But if your legal department is coming from a paper world where reporting was minimal, invoices were approved without process, and few billing guidelines were in place, the odds are there's still a lot of room for improvement. That's perfectly normal for a legal department getting on a matter management system for the first time. During implementation, there were probably many options and suggestions given by your implementation manager along with a lot of best practice advice. Depending on where your legal department started, the options and the effort to implement them may have seemed overwhelming.

Here's the key – prioritize what you would like to implement and make a yearly plan. The year after implementation? Maybe your next goal is to get electronic invoices from all your firms, develop and implement billing guidelines, and get accruals from your firms. Your second year plan may be to implement budgets on all your matters, implement timekeeper rate increase guidelines, and expand the system internationally. The goals vary from company to company, but having a plan of continuous improvement (and the authority to implement that plan) will keep your legal department from missing out on the efficiency and savings an ebilling and matter management system can bring.

Finally, remain engaged with the company you bought the software from and the product. The support team should be able to answer all of your questions on how the product works. Your client relationship manager should be an expert on the product and should be able to give you best practice advice on how to implement your next goal and should even be able to suggest what the next goal should be based on her experience. Keep up with new release updates and webinars and new best practices for those releases; determine if these features are something your department can use. If there's a project that you can't get to that must get done, see if the company's professional services has an offering that can help. If there is a feature that you want that the product doesn't have, let the company know. Any company worth their salt listens intently to what their customers are looking for, and if they hear the same thing enough, that feature will be considered for their roadmap.

Getting a team in place, having executive sponsorship, having a plan of continuous improvement, and partnering with your software company will ensure your legal department is getting the most out of its matter management and ebilling. It will also ensure that your fifth grade clarinet stays lonely in that garage.


About the author

Patrick Johnson is currently a Senior Marketer for Serengeti Law who writes and speaks on legal department management and technology. As a five-year veteran of Thomson Reuters, Pat previously served as an Account and Implementation Manager where he consulted a portfolio of more than 190 corporate law department clients on legal department management using Serengeti's Tracker matter management and e-billing system, as well as consulting clients on-site and conducting trainings and seminars nationwide on the best practices of the top legal departments worldwide. A graduate of University of Virginia School of Law, prior to joining Serengeti, Pat served as a corporate M&A attorney for five years. Prior to law school, he worked as an IT consultant and financial analyst in California.


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