Risk Update

Outside Counsel Guidelines in Focus — Inside WilmerHale’s OCG Journey & Strategy

OCGs are a hot topic, no doubt. A longtime reader brought this story to my attention. What’s most interesting is the creation of a specific OCG-focused operational risk role to help manage things: “Technology Alone Is Not the Answer’: Wilmer Revisits Outside Counsel Guidelines” —

  • In total, the firm is sitting on approximately 1,000 documents, after receiving, in 2019 alone, roughly 260 new retainer agreements or updates to existing guidelines that stipulate what clients expect from the attorneys they are hiring.
  • “‘There are a lot of process failures out there,’ said Kyle Liepelt, who was named Wilmer’s first dedicated outside counsel guidelines administrator in February 2018. ‘Technology alone is not the answer.'”
  • “When Wilmer began the process of reevaluating how it dealt with these guidelines in 2017, leaders found that—unlike the majority of the firms… it was over-complying with guidelines. Instead of losing money through rejected bills, convoluted appeals and write-downs, attorneys were being overly cautious in their billing.
  • “‘We couldn’t arm our partners to the nuances of these client differences,” said Steve Smith, the firm’s director of matter management services, describing a problem of ‘excessive diligence.’ That impact, both in time and money, to communicate the complexity around outside counsel guidelines, that’s time that we should have been spending adding real value to our clients,’ he continued.”
  • “Following an initial workshop, one of Wilmer’s first steps was to create the centralized administrator position held by Liepelt, who spent the previous five years as a conflicts specialist in the firm’s new business department. Each set of new guidelines goes directly to him, and he’s responsible for reviewing their terms, looping in the relationship partner and the billing partners on a given matter.”
  • “If these conversations illustrate the human side of the process, the technical side takes the forefront once any negotiations are finished. The Wilmer team looked to a database to help solve the problem of scale, teaming with a vendor that had its own outside counsel guidelines solution and using the underlying workflow and source code to built their own unique design. Each client’s guidelines are broken down into a data record with component terms highlighted, and attorneys and staff can search for terms and easily access the source documents.”
  • “When updated versions of guidelines roll in, Liepelt can turn to the database to identify what’s changed, then rapidly point out the differences to the partners involved. When looking at intranet profiles for the firm’s attorneys, he and others can follow links to see what outside counsel guidelines apply to each matter they’re working on, guiding conversations about matter efficiency.”
  • “One year into the new system, the feedback, from both inside and outside the firm, has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Smith and Liepelt. Partners appreciate having an internal point person to whom they can direct their inquiries and concerns, while staff have the information at their disposal to do pre-bill auditing. Turnaround time with clients has decreased by 25%.”