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The Secret Sauce of Better Client Service (Hint: It's Better Billing)

Andie Linker

One of the most prolific topics circling law firm discussions today is cost recovery, which involves billing for your e-discovery services to recoup some of the costs of your people, process, and technology investments in this area. You’d be hard pressed to find a litigation support team at a law firm that is not thinking about this.

Based on all this chatter, it’s clear that the law firm community has decided cost recovery is an important topic. Still, firms want to know why many of their peers are so focused on this subject, how to accomplish it if it’s the right way to go, and what it will mean for their business.

At Relativity Fest 2020, we sat down with cost recovery experts to learn just that. Margaret Havinga, director of litigation support at Williams & Connolly, joined us to provide her insights.

Before we dive into the recap, you might be asking: How has a discussion that started off a bit controversial gotten such legs in the current climate? The answer might surprise you. Many firms have learned that recovering e-discovery costs actually means delivering a better experience to your clients.

Wondering how? Then read on.

Litigation Support Transformation

“Firms are moving away from seeing e-discovery services and lit support as a mere overhead or cost of doing business, to seeing those services—and the people, processes, and technology that support them—as invaluable assets to the firm,” said Bret.

This is the shift that has defined Bret Libigs’ 10+ year career in the e-discovery industry. Bret leads our law firm team here at Relativity, and opened up this session with some of his observations from working closely with law firms. But what does this shift have to do with recovering costs?

Your corporate clients are starting to see beyond just the attorneys they work with day-to-day. They now expect the gold standard of service from everyone and everything which touches your case. Bret cites some of their demands as: world class data security, faster outcomes, efficient processes, and innovative solutions, to name just a few. These expectations can be a huge burden on your firm, and ensuring all of these needs are met takes investment.

So, having a cost recovery model in place is crucial to ensure you are able to invest in the people, processes, and technology that will enable you to deliver the best possible client experience.

Of course, that all sounds great—but how you get there is another discussion. That’s precisely why Margaret joined us at Relativity Fest. She took on a leading role in changing the billing models of her firm, and shared all the wisdom she could muster with us.

Williams & Connolly’s Story

Margaret Havinga has worked at Williams & Connolly for over 28 years, and in her years has really seen the trends that Bret set out. Litigation support has gone from a simple back-office function to a key team that the firm taps into in a strategic manner.

Their journey with cost recovery began with their Server instance of Relativity, with a focus on recovering their infrastructure costs.

However, moving to RelativityOne came with an opportunity to revamp their model and bill back for more precise amounts of data they were using on each case.

“With the move to RelativityOne, we wanted to make it almost like a vendor, so you have these official backups, you know the data you’re storing, and what you’re passing through,” said Margaret.

Margaret knew she had to get stakeholders from IT, litigation support, attorneys, and finance that use the software on board, so she formed a group of them that could help develop the model and evangelize it firm-wide. The key stakeholder she has cited for her success, however, is the managing partner.

In order to ensure that everyone at Williams & Connolly understands the model, Margaret said that she constantly follows up with case teams about the billing models.

“As we migrate [cases to RelativityOne], we contact each team and say: ‘This case can be migrated or we have other options like cold storage; here is your cost either way,’” said Margaret. “This allows for full transparency into how billing works.”

Margaret explained that the move to RelativityOne has made it a lot easier to maintain a robust cost recovery model.

RelativityOne’s billing applications have, she said, “made life a lot easier. Before, it was so manual. We now have a backup that looks like a true invoice and we can easily send it to people monthly,” she continued. “It’s much more automated and as we continue the migration to RelativityOne, it’s just so much easier.”

Cost recovery also allows Williams & Connolly clients to have more options for how they manage their data, and enables internal teams to take on larger, more complex cases.

Margaret added: “We now have the ability to grow, adding new services or applications to RelativityOne where we may not have been able to do it on-premises, and doing it quickly.”

Recovering costs has been a value add to Margaret and the Williams & Connolly team because it gives the client better, more diverse options for how the firm serves them.

To maximize your cost recovery investment, it's important to keep a couple of key lessons in mind.

First, it is important to overcommunicate your model with key stakeholders and clients and make sure that you have champions within your firm to back up your model.

Second, you must have a robust billing model that is easy to understand and fits the unique needs of your firm. Although it is difficult to prescribe exactly what that looks like, there are tools in RelativityOne that can help give transparency into your data so that you can develop the model that is right for you.

If you have these two things under your belt, you are sure to deliver top-notch service to your clients by investing in your firm to better invest in them.

Turning a Profile for Your Law Firm's e-Discovery Practice

Andie Linker is a member of the product marketing team at Relativity.