Every law department I have consulted to pegs the bill-approval level of its lawyers by their level. If you are an associate general counsel, the authorizations lets you sign off on bills up to $35,000. If you are an assistant general counsel, $25,000 (See my post of March 23, 2006 on the rank difference between the two titles.). Changes in approval levels follow in lock-step fashion, so when you are promoted, you can request payment for larger invoices (See my post of Aug. 24, 2005 about a bank’s authorization levels and my post of April 9, 2006 on the terms “invoice,” “bill,” or “statement.”).
Cutting against this one-title-fits-all approach, it is true that lawyers in different specialties use outside counsel in different amounts. Some specialists, and in particular litigators, spend much more than others, and much more than their business unit generalist colleagues (See my post of Nov. 8, 2005 on the irony of specialists relying more on outside lawyers.).
A more meaningful approval scheme might set approval levels in some relation to the amount of bills likely to be reviewed by the particular lawyer. When someone sees a small amount of bills, that lawyer might get a lower threshold for approval than a lawyer at the same level who sees 10 times as much in outside counsel bills. Workable or not, the idea is to match authority levels to experience and practicality.