Ascertus: E-billing – there is something here for you, law firms
This article was originally a guest by Bryan King, independent e-billing consultant.
The benefits of e-billing to corporate legal departments is relatively well understood today, but there is still some convincing required among law firms of its advantages. Typically, the deployment of e-billing in law firms is driven by corporate clients and so the underlying sentiment of "what's in it for me?" is often palpable. The reality is that law firms have much to gain too – both from an internal perspective and an external relationship standpoint.
The obvious tangible benefits of e-billing are that, law firms get their invoices paid more quickly, due to faster authorisation and payment processes at the client end. Also, law firm bills are validated and checked for compliance with the corporate legal departments’ billing guidelines by the e-billing solution provider ‘before’ they are submitted to the client, so normally there are fewer disputes over payments. Additionally, with some corporate legal departments adopting legal spend management solutions, that go beyond the stereotypical e-billing solutions, clients are able to view the time and expenses recorded by law firms much earlier in the process and so have the ability to query the law firm's potential charges well before they are billed. This ensures less "surprises" and reasons for clients to hold back payments.
Finance managers have access to data that can be analysed via the Uniform Task-Based Management System (UTBMS) codes to record matter phases, tasks and activities, for example to compare the performance of departments and offices. Such insight is usually not easily available to the finance and accounts departments in law firms.
Strengthening client relationships
By embracing e-billing, firms can strengthen their working relationship with clients, help them earn goodwill, which in turn can bring new opportunities. For instance, through legal spend management tools, law firms can provide clients visibility of things like written-off /unbilled time and non-chargeable work undertaken. They can also categorise billed time by the client’s own work breakdown/cost codes and improve the value of the information in the e-bill.
Law firms can leverage e-billing as a marketing tool. Prospects now expect law firms to be knowledgeable about e-billing. Firms that are able to advise on e-billing issues and even on how billing data can be tailored to best meet the client’s needs, are attractive to legal departments.
The approach facilitates initiation of fresh dialogue with clients regarding the pricing of legal work and the use of flexible cost models. E-billing allows work to be broken down and measured in different ways, with transparency. Also, analysis of historical pricing data from the e-billing solution is a great way to determine and agree alternative fee arrangements that are a win-win for both parties.
Many of the newer legal spend management solutions offer very sophisticated metrics and management information reporting capabilities that benefit the law firms as well as corporate legal departments.
There is business merit in adopting e-billing and legal spend management solutions for law firms. The insight and transparency offered by such solutions, in reality is of equal commercial value to both parties.