Law firms used to choose their own service providers.
Almost universally, they hired their favorite firms for court reporting, copying, records retrieval and review, mediation and arbitration, investigation, interpreting, jury selection, e-discovery and more.
And clients paid the bills.
That arrangement is no longer a given. Clients want more say more often in the litigation services they pay for. Increasingly, clients own the entire vendor relationship: They choose litigation service providers, mandate their use across firms, manage compliance, and reap economies from programs of national scale.
In the most recent CLM National Litigation Management study (PDF):
- 57 percent of claims and litigation executives had direct relationships with court reporting providers.
- 72 percent had direct relationships with surveillance providers.
- 38 percent had direct relationships with records retrieval providers.
That’s from a 2015 report. The numbers are likely higher now.
Vendor selection is just the start
When a client chooses a good litigation services vendor, and runs the program well, they can see improved legal and financial results.
But vendor selection is just the beginning. Results take work because these programs are uniquely complex. Motives vary depending on the participant, including:
- The executive(s) who decided to create the new program.
- Influencers at the client organization who can enforce (or ignore) the program, such as claim managers, adjusters, or attorneys in the corporate legal department.
- The outside attorneys and staff who must work with the selected vendor.
Try these best practices in vendor management
Here are eight ways for corporate legal or claims departments to improve the chances of securing a solid return on investment from a direct relationship with a litigation services partner:
- Communicate the purpose and value of the program.
Corporate initiatives fail if the purpose isn’t communicated clearly and often to all involved. Clearly, openly, transparently explain all the reasons why a program is attractive to you and what specifically you hope to achieve with it. Law firms will assume your motive is cost savings, which may be true, but visibility, control, metrics and performance improvement can be equally important.
- Repeat step one frequently.
Simply announcing the program and its purpose after vendor selection is not enough. Law firms forget. Internal staff forgets. Attorneys and their staffs turn over. Constant communication is critical. Establish a process for updating both users and staff about compliance rates. How is the program going? Discuss both challenges and successes.
- Help the service provider ensure compliance with the program.
For example, the client organization should give the litigation service provider complete counsel lists so the provider can contact each firm, discuss its unique needs, and ensure that services are being delivered smoothly. Without the provider’s ability to reach out to each firm, compliance rates will suffer.
- Solicit open and honest feedback.
Smart clients trust their firms’ feedback. They value their relationships. Make sure you’re not making your firms’ work more difficult. Law firms can play a critical role in helping to measure a providers’ performance level.
- Share feedback across the entire user base.
We all like to know how our experience compares to others’. Law firms are no different. When possible, data about vendor use should be shared across the entire user base. If a firm sees that other firms are achieving 100-percent program compliance and the firm rarely uses the program, this can be a red flag to the firm’s management that they need to step up their utilization.
- Measure compliance rates.
A program without measurement is hard to manage, and reduction of going rogue – i.e., firms using non-preferred vendors – is critical to hitting agreed-upon program objectives. Establishing periodic meetings or calls with the service provider to maintain continual visibility into usage data and metrics is a fundamental best practice. File reviews, e-billing platforms and expense requests can be good sources of compliance data.
- Enforce program compliance.
Enforcement of vendor program utilization can range from zero-tolerance approaches to something more flexible. However, to be successful, the program cannot be voluntary or opt-in. Measure compliance on a firm-by-firm basis, and share those compliance levels with each firm.
- Let the service provider help with program compliance.
Clients frequently lack the resources to conduct all the necessary compliance-oriented steps themselves. Smart clients use their service partners extensively to help. Require the service provider by contract to help ensure uptake of the program.
As clients take over litigation service provider relationships and programs, they stand to save money and achieve better legal outcomes. But selecting the right vendor is only the start. Manage the relationship with intelligence and purpose for best results and satisfaction all around.
After all, you’re still the one paying the bills.