General counsel could save up to 10% of their external legal spend simply by implementing effective e-billing and workflow systems, in-house lawyers heard last week.

At a networking event hosted by the Law Society’s In-house Division, consultants from global business intelligence giant Thomson Reuters explained how technology can help in-house lawyers both find savings amid diminishing budgets and boost their boardroom influence.

One priority should be introducing e-billing to manage outside spend, said Ros Innes (pictured), Thomson Reuters’ head of strategy for in-house and ABSs, and Des Brady, the company’s head of government.

Such technologies can detect breaches of billing guidelines, enabling real-time reporting and even allow GCs to compare the performance of outside counsel against internal and external benchmarks. ‘It could save you 5-10% of legal spending every year for an investment of 0.5%,’ said Innes.

When canvassed by speakers however, only a handful of the 60 in-house lawyers present said their organisations were considering e-billing.  GCs in the US are leading the way in this area, though it is likely to become an imperative for domestic in-housers, Innes said. ‘The UK is a bit behind the curve,’ she added.

Automated systems in corporate governance could also add an extra layer of risk management into the administration of boardroom votes and dissemination of board papers, Innes suggested.

The speakers also discussed the growing challenge of ‘big data’ – coping with datasets that are so big they are difficult to process.

Newly evolving software can help GCs interpret data and support decision-making, even by checking the status of legal authorities in documents, said Brady. ‘Imagine a tool that can calculate a company’s chance of success at trial,’ he added. ‘This is a priority for IBM.’

Brady concluded: ‘So where is the lawyer in all this? GCs will need to add to their arsenal the ability to understand the potential of technology for their function.’