Just like any construction or business project, a solid litigation plan starts with a detailed set of tasks, dates, and people. And then the first phase is to build the foundation that everything else will be built upon. Just as there are different components in a building project foundation – concrete, rebar, cinder block, drain tiles, and so on – the foundation of a great litigation plan has several key components, too.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve discussed starting with a project management mindset as well as the importance of building milestones into a detailed plan. And certainly, that plan should also include cost estimates and guidelines for billing. Just as in a construction plan…the project plan determines an overall budget and how much is owed and at what phase. Anything out of scope will be detailed during project team meetings and the budget and people will be approved…no surprises. It also gives us a format to monitor and adjust through the completion of the project.
One of the most important components of a good litigation plan is a clear set of billing guidelines. While typically set at the Corporate Legal Department upper levels and used for every legal engagement…there are some best-practices for guidelines that we’ve seen our more successful clients use as part of their litigation plan process.
A good litigation plan will have a specific and consistent billing format that everyone involved in the project will use to submit invoices. In addition, billing is typically submitted electronically – utilizing the LEDES format as much as possible using the appropriate UTBMS task codes. This consistency saves time and improves oversight on the project to make sure billing levels are not straying too far from the original plan. One invoice per month, per matter with approved timekeepers and rates keeps everything normalized for the duration of the matter. Any and all changes would need to be submitted and reviewed giving the law firms and the corporate teams a predictable forecast and a “billing mindshare” from all involved at the very beginning.
Sometimes this can be tough… The law firm has the technology that they have expertise in for doc review and case management…but typically, it precludes the participation of the client team. Or the client team is required to learn a different technology for every outside counsel they engage. We have begun to see more often, that all of the parties involved in the litigation will use the corporation’s technology platforms and service providers. This ensures that everyone is creating, updating, and informing the same platform… more to the point – they are collaborating within the same platform. In addition to the consistency that this single platform offers, this approach also gives the corporation simpler access for monitoring, reporting, and oversight on the project.
Staffing and Expenses
Good litigation plans frequently document the number of resources expected to be involved in the project. They may state how many timekeepers are on the litigation team, who those folks will be, and the acceptable rates. Expenses involved in the litigation, such as guidelines for travel expenses and how many attorneys will attend meetings and depositions are often documented upfront within the billing guidelines. These are monitored throughout the billing process… with metrics and reporting in real-time.
Multiple Billing Models
Accommodating different types of billing is important, too. There may be areas where flat rates for certain expenses are appropriate and it’s important that the billing guidelines address a mix of different types of billings that will be involved in executing the litigation.
As a Final Thought on Billing Guidelines
There is one other trait that construction and litigation projects share: They can often stretch out for much longer than we all expect when we start. Laying out billing expectations and guidelines at the very beginning will pay big dividends going forward on projects that might last two or three years and sometimes more. And at the end of the litigation, the plan reflects the changes of scope that can now be reflected for future litigations.
If you’d like to explore the concept of billing guidelines in more depth as part of managing your litigation spend, feel free to call us anytime at 302-798-7500, sign up for a demo on eDiscovery/ Litigation Support or on Enterprise Legal Management here or watch for our upcoming workshop webinars for an in-depth look at Litigation Plan Best Practices.