With most government agencies being urged to find ‘efficiency dividends’ in their legal services budget, it is timely to consider what instructing officers can do to keep their legal spend down.

Here are our top tips for driving best value for money in legal services.

Tell them what you know

Avoid assumptions and alternatives in the advice you receive by giving your external lawyers as much information as possible. Do this verbally in the first instance, until you work out which information is the most relevant for them – do not bombard your lawyers with written material or they will have to bill you for reading it all. If they need to see supporting documentation on a particular issue, let them know it is available on request.

If you have already identified relevant contract clauses / legislation / case law then provide that as a starting point. Your lawyers will no doubt verify this information themselves, but giving them the benefit of your preliminary work may avoid unnecessary research and duplication of effort.

Getting started

Ask (in advance) not to be billed for time spent by lawyers preparing for or attending a start-up meeting. Any research or other preparatory work done before speaking to you may be unnecessary or misplaced, particularly if you will be providing comprehensive background information or preliminary research of your own at that meeting.

Raw material

Look around for templates, precedent documents or previous examples that are relevant, even if they are a few years out of date. Even if they were prepared by another firm, you may own the intellectual property and have the ability to modify, adapt and rebrand the document for a different project.

If you find something, you can simply ask the new firm to update and tailor it to the current project rather than preparing something from scratch. If they have their own precedent that they feel is more appropriate, ask to see it to make sure you agree.

Get in first

After a meeting or telephone discussion between you and your lawyer, someone needs to put in writing what was agreed by way of an email confirmation. Take responsibility for doing this and let your lawyer know you will send an email confirmation immediately after the discussion. If you leave it to your lawyer to prepare the confirmation, they will need to bill you for their time. Be comprehensive and precise – be sure to include any instructions you gave, any advice your lawyers gave, and who is responsible for any action items, including deadlines.

Stick to your story

Nothing sends legal costs through the roof faster than changing your instructions part-way through a task. Make sure you have a written record of what you asked the firm to do, and refer back to it as necessary to ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction.

If the task does need to change, be transparent with your legal advisers about what is changing and why, and have a frank conversation about the likely impact on costs and any work done to date that is now redundant.

Buddy-up

Many firms are now offering a ‘buddy’ or second counsel facility, whereby your in-house team can be supported by external lawyers, without actually outsourcing the work. This can be a great way to train up junior team members and get the extra peace of mind that comes with external advice, at a fraction of the price.

The bottom line

Making a few small adjustments to the way you manage external legal work can have a significant impact on the bill you receive at the end of the month.