As any lawyer who has spent time in-house will tell you, local counsel invoice review is a tedious and time-consuming task. Here are 7 key steps to making the review process as efficient and productive as possible.
The first – and most important – step begins long before counsel has ever moved the mouse to draft his first email. Set the expectations at the beginning, with clear and succinct billing guidelines. Make sure counsel knows exactly what outcome you’re expecting: is the deal closed when both parties shake hands or when the ink is dry on the signature page? Is this a spare-no-expense issue, or merely something to test the waters? And, by all means, agree and document hourly rates or fee arrangements beforehand.
Once that’s done, here’s how to look at the invoice:
- Know what to expect. Having a budget prepared at the beginning of the engagement lets you gauge immediately if the volume of time billed to date is appropriate. Look at the budget to actual costs. Acuity’s ELM software makes this process automatic, and alerts you when actual costs are nearing budget predictions, and can even prevent your counsel firms from billing in excess of their budgets.
- The view from 10,000 feet. Invoice summaries are an easy way to assess the work that’s buried within all those line items. If your billing review software doesn’t already do this for you, ask your firms to include both timekeeper and task summaries as part of their invoice. Then, look at the data: is the firm staffing this matter appropriately? Is the type of work billed on this invoice in-line with the status of the case?
- Expenses add up. Make sure each firm is itemizing their expenses by code, so you can enforce your billing guidelines. No more postage costs here. I spoke to a client recently who had no idea he was spending more than $5,000 each year for one firm’s “word processing” costs.
- Trust your instincts. You know when something doesn’t seem right. Make sure you are comparing the invoice in front of you with the invoice from last month, or the invoice on a different matter. Seven hours a day is not surprising; seven hours on the same day on three different invoices – that’s something entirely different.
- Highlight keywords. Certain words are synonymous with billing discrepancies: organize, travel, and research for example.
- Narrow your focus. Filter down to the data that’s most important to you. Perhaps it’s a specific case, timekeeper, or witness. Looking at all similar line items together makes it easier to spot trends.
Invest. Acuity’s Digital Billing Software, Acuity ELM, automates these steps for you. We offer budgeting tools to provide total transparency between you and your firms. We provide summaries and line item details to allow you the mile-high view as well as all the details. With just a couple of clicks in Acuity, you can filter, sort, and flag information to hone your focus. And we’ll prevent counsel from submitting duplicates, non-allowable charges, and charges for more than 24 hours in a day (yes, that happens).
Want to see a demo? We promise you will be impressed!