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Nine ways to improve your guidelines for outside counsel

No self-respecting law department lacks its statement of principles and operating rules for its law firms. Many posts on this blog have commented on these outside counsel guidelines (See my posts of Dec. 17, 2007 on the profusion of outside counsel guidelines; Aug. 1, 2006 on their goals; and Jan. 8, 2008 on guidelines for intra-firm disbursements.).

Here are ideas for how you might improve your guidelines.

1. Shorten them. Even if you keep all of the content and structure of your existing guidelines, you can make them briefer. Cut verbiage.
2. Simplify the language and be direct in your writing. Guidelines are not the place for complicated circumlocutions. “Bill us each month if your fees on the matter exceed $1,000.”
3. Delete all the high sounding, throat clearing. Guidelines that go on and on about the glories of collaborative achievement and world-class, cost-effective productivity waste trees. Partners skim them and look for the meat.
4. Consider the order of your points. One organizing device is to state your points roughly in the chronological order of a normal retention of a law firm.
5. Avoid attachments and footnotes. Attachments, because they get separated from the agreement; footnotes, because that is pompous and reeks of law review.
6. Project how much work you are putting on the law firm as a consequence of your guidelines. Then compare that effort to what you hope to gain from it. Assume that your department will eventually, somehow, absorb the firm’s cost of compliance. So, do not make unreasonable demands if you are not going to hold up your end of the bargain (See my posts of Jan. 10, 2008 on interventions in law firm management.).
7. Decide whether you are writing a constitution or a civil code. Some things may not need to be spelled out.
8. Review the guidelines every few months, especially after a law firm proposes a fair and appropriate change (See my posts of Jan. 1, 2008 on travel policies.).
9. Constantly remind the lawyers in the department about the guidelines and their obligation to enforce them.