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Don’t over-burden budgets with details and force invoices to match that level of detail

Through ACC, the prolific Rob Thomas, Vice President, Strategic Development for Serengeti Law, recently published his “Top 10 Methods To Manage Outside Counsel.” Thomas cites approvingly from the infamous audit report that excoriated Amtrak’s legal department and in his seventh method instructs law departments to obtain project budgets and track bills against them.

With that much I agree, as to major matters (See my post of Nov. 15, 2005 for a definition of major litigation matters.) and as to invoices showing how amounts billed to date match up against budget projections. What I don’t agree with is the burdensome additional recommendation: “To facilitate the tracking of spending against the budget, budgets should be broken down by phase, major activity, or time. Then, as bills are received they can be compared with corresponding budget categories to quickly note projects that may be getting off track.”

The final requirement exacts too much time and expects too much process, both long after the fact.

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One response to “Don’t over-burden budgets with details and force invoices to match that level of detail”

  1. Rob Thomas says:

    Your comment that tracking spending against budgets by period or phase takes too much time may apply to manual systems. It does not apply to an online matter management/e-billing system like Serengeti. All bills are automatically compared with the budget for the appropriate time period(s) and phase as they come in. This allows in-house counsel to quickly see if a project is getting off track as bills are reviewed each month, and to do something about it during the course of the project.
    I agree that after the fact comparisons at the end of a project are generally too late–better to check as you’re going along so that you can find out what is causing the problem and address it. This is one of the primary reasons that many law departments are moving to a combined e-billing/matter management system.