In one of the most significant announcements at Legaltech19, a high-level matter category standards alliance on 29 January announced the first version of its cross-industry standard, which is the culmination of a three-year effort to provide a common language for law firms and in-house counsel.

The Standards Advancement for the Legal Industry (SALI) Alliance is building matter coding that includes area of law and process codes, which it says will foster innovation and provide consistency for buyers and sellers of legal services – needed for better pricing and analytics.

It announced the new global standard at a meeting in Microsoft’s office in Manhattan, which was attended by a number of senior industry figures including Casey Flaherty, who has just joined Baker McKenzie as director of legal project management; Sylvia Hodges Silverstein, executive director of the Buying Legal Council; and Gabriela Isturiz, who co-founded eBillingHub (sold to Thomson Reuters) and subsequently Bellefield Systems.

Flaherty said at the meeting: “I’ve long held the opinion that there is a huge information deficit between private practice and outside counsel and until we get better data, we can’t have a better conversation.”

Dialing in to the meeting, Aileen Leventon, author of Implementing Legal Project Management: The Legal Professional’s Guide to Success, and a new guidebook on using UTBMS Codes for Merger and Acquisition Transactions, said: “ I applaud the idea of a vocabulary independent of firm or industry structure – this is about law regardless of the entity.”

Officially driving the initiative are The Legal Marketing Association (LMA) and the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA), but leading individuals include Toby Brown, chief practice management officer at Perkins Coie LLP (on the SALI board); ALA executive director Oliver Yandle; and Kat Seiffert, LMA’s interim representative and head of marketing. Prosperoware’s founder Keith Lipman was one of the formative members of the group alongside Justin Ergler, director of global external legal relations at GlaxoSmithKline; Adam Stock, chief information officer at California law firm Allen Matkins; and Jim Hannigan, senior manager of product development and project management at Allen Matkins.

At the meeting on 29 January, Hannigan said to attendees in the room and dialing in: “This is the first standard we’ve developed to describe legal matters with data that describes the matter content involved. It will help with better pricing and project management and pitching, so that buyers and sellers of legal services can better collaborate.”

Brown said: “This is transformational for the legal industry: everyone is trying to innovate but it’s hard when it’s all so bespoke.”

In the US there are currently standard task codes created by the American Bar Association that reflect the activity conducted not the output and are highly unpopular for not describing what is being delivered, which is how you price and what you base your fees on.

SALI says it doesn’t plan to replace existing codes and the next challenge – one to be embraced by vendors – is how it is delivered in practice. However, the idea is that it flows through the legal lifecycle from matter intake to pitch to bills and can evolve as a matter turns into litigation and Brown said: “The industry’s lifecycle is disjointed, and products don’t talk to each other at those stages. This is a way to make your data transferable – first we just need to make sure it fits.”

SALI has announced its intent to publish the second release of the code during the LMA P3 Conference this coming June, which will further extend the taxonomy for location, jurisdiction, and other key business drivers of legal matters.

Vince Cordo, Central Legal Operations Officer at the Shell International, said: “The SALI standard offers a unique coding for matters and simplifies how they can be managed, while improving our data analytics and reporting, digitizing procedures – moving the needle with measurable value. Legal departments are accelerating the innovation process and the SALI standard is an enabler to that end.”

Any company or organization can become a member at www.sali.org. Members can participate in defining the legal services market through regular SALI standard committee meetings. Membership tiers are offered for clients, law firms, solution providers and other industry stakeholders.

SALI members include:

Association of Legal Administrators (founding member); Allen Matkins; Bloomberg Law; GSK; Greenberg Traurig; Holland & Knight; Honigman, Miller, Schwartz and Cohn; Husch Blackwell; Intapp; Legal Marketing Association (founding member); Level 2 Legal Solutions; LexisNexis; McKool Smith; Pepper Hamilton; Perkins Coie; Prosperoware; Schulte Roth; Shell; Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis; Wolters Kluwer

Sali Endorsers include the ACC; Buying Legal Council; Citigroup; Deutsche Bank; Edge International; Foundation Software Group; LawVision; and Microsoft.