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Why split conflicts management from your billing system

With the Elite Enterprise platform rapidly reaching its end of life, many law firms are faced with the need to transition to a new time and billing system.

This transition is a monster project with huge change management implications. Even with the best project planning, it can be a stressful endeavor because lawyers are impacted and need to adjust to new interfaces and new processes. Also, the sheer amount of data that must be reviewed, mapped and converted may be overwhelming.

One way to make the project easier, and to benefit the overall business, is to move conflicts out of time and billing. This lightens the load of the billing team and is also an opportunity for the firm to improve and modernize conflicts, while tapping into the opportunities that a modern conflicts system has to offer. Finally, an added benefit is that when conflicts get the attention of a full team for the transition, the resulting conflicts management system is based on a better process and yields better results.

Here are four reasons why conflicts should be separated from time and billing.

1. An independent, modern conflicts management system better protects your firm from risk.

In many firms with combined conflicts and billing systems, finance oversees conflicts, a legacy of the years when many of these systems were established. Increasingly, as data has proliferated and corporate structures have become diversified, conflicts have become more complex and have become mission-critical to firm operations. A growing number of firms are moving the oversight of conflicts into the purview of risk management professionals because of their acumen as data stewards and of their holistic knowledge of the subject matter.

Regardless of which team “owns” conflicts at your firm, given the growing complexity of conflicts management, you can benefit from a disciplined approach that considers all of the necessary internal and external sources, all of the potential search permutations, and any new developments and best practices in conflicts management. In this way, you ensure a vital level of diligence that decreases your risk for losing legal fees or clients, and for incurring reputational damage caused by missed conflicts.

2. Conflicts management is an area of growing complexity that calls for a focused approach.

The amount of data that conflicts of interest teams have to manage and search has grown exponentially. It is no longer enough to simply check the firm’s internal sources for possible conflicts.

Regulatory requirements and advancements in good business practices require firms to check sources outside of the firm, such as sanction lists and corporate tree listings. Law firms are also being asked to factor into conflicts management information from outside counsel guidelines, internal lists and lateral hires that don’t fit comfortably into a client/matter structure.

Additionally, the operational structures of conflicts teams are in-flux, as firms seek to minimize the impact conflict reviews have on its billing lawyers. As a result, systems focused specifically on conflicts are more likely to provide the functionality necessary for firms to adhere to these evolving risk landscapes.

3. A conflict-specific system increases opportunities for growth.

Conflicts of interest databases are the unrecognized golden source of big data. Modern conflicts of interest systems provide a 360-degree view of existing clients and their affiliates. When a firm expands its view of its clients to also include client affiliates, it not only strengthens its risk processes, but it can also begin to uncover a treasure trove of big data that can be leveraged throughout the firm.

As we explained in “5 Reasons Why You Should Modernize Your Conflicts Management System,” conflicts data is the source of truth when it comes to data integrity. So, it is the best and most accurate data to use for business development opportunities. Nevertheless, you need a separate conflicts system in order to achieve this, as you cannot use for big data analytics an old system that combines time and billing with conflicts.

4. A transition to a dedicated conflicts system is much quicker than a time and billing transition.

A time and billing transition at a larger firm can take two or more years to complete. By separating out conflicts, however, conflicts can be transitioned into an independent system in six to nine months, with minimal inconvenience to the accounting team and lawyers.

It is worth your time to embark on this relatively straight forward conversion. Separating conflicts will be a “quick win” that will build confidence in your team’s ability to handle the transition of a complex system and will help win over firm leadership and attorneys. As the Harvard Business Review shows, such quick wins will be instrumental in supporting the switch to a new time and billing system, encouraging firmwide adoption of the larger technology conversion.

If you’re planning a billing system change, the time is now to separate out your conflict management software. Identifying and resolving conflicts of interest through a dedicated, modern system offers many benefits to your firm, including better functionality, and a quicker, more thorough resolution of conflicts that decreases the overall risk for your firm, while speeding up business intake.

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Inside iManage

Inside iManage blogs are reflective of a combination of authors among our various teams.