Moving in-house from private practice is often fueled by a desire not only for more interesting and varied legal work but a closer relationship with the business. Whilst this close relationship brings many rewards, experienced in-house lawyers will recognise familiar downsides...
The agenda-less meetings, the passing colleagues with ‘quick’ questions, the endless email chains and those searches for missing contracts. Unless you are one of the fortunate few with access to a PA, your day will be punctuated by administrative matters: the printer that runs out of paper just when you are printing a critical contract, the meetings you need to coordinate and the hours spent managing the legal budget and checking invoices.
All of this comes at a heavy price in terms of your focus and efficiency on legal matters. That interruption mid-contract review means you need to review it again, the email chain may distract you from the invoice you were checking and you may not spot the obvious over-charge or error. Over time it is easy to become accustomed to these inefficiencies. But rather than accepting this as inevitable or too expensive to solve, there are many things you can do which don’t require a huge investment and which will help you take back control.
The best place to start is to identify the matters you handle on a daily or regular basis for example, searching for contract data. If you create a standard contract summary sheet every time you make your final contract review this will serve the dual purpose of informing the signatory of the key terms and be a source of key contract data for future reference.
Beyond this, simple software solutions may enable your colleagues to ‘self-serve’, for example, by generating an NDA from a simple set of online questions and standard template.
As for those external firm invoices, you can start by gathering and recording the data in a simple spreadsheet. For each law firm, record the current matters, the department for whom the work is being done and the nature of the work. You should also record the initial quote or agreed fee, any agreed variances and the actual invoiced amounts. It may take a bit of time to gather the data in the first place but this will pay off. Not only will it save you having to search through your emails and call around your colleagues each time there is another invoice to review but it will form a sound basis for legal cost budgeting in future years and highlight any regular overrun issues which need to be investigated.
Depending on the level of invoices and expenditure you can also consider technological solutions to give you immediate access to a much deeper level of data, to identify trends, challenge overruns and manage your budget more effectively (and definitely improve your relationship with the CFO!).