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Law Firms and the Evolution of eBilling

Martin Ervin, National Managing Director of Billing, Lewis Brisbois

The 20th century had some law firm leaders seeing changes within the industry such as practice area growth and the billable hour was in its glory days. Few were able to see the forest through the trees, and then there was eBilling. Historically, lawyers were dictating rates and how cases would be managed. The law firms were in control. So, what happened? Clients such as corporate counsel began to look towards the future of the 21st century, and collectively, corporations began investigating this new technology. They got together and started conversations about legal spend but also knowing there was a need for reducing paper and postage costs. It was time for automation. These factors, combined with several other, created the eBilling technology solutions we see today. One of the many issues law firms is finding as they have stood by and watched what was once in their control now being driven by the client is that each tool is different. As the Nationally Managing Director of Billing for one of the largest law firms in the country. My volume of eBilling is arguably one of the largest in the country; so, if a firm has several hundred clients, it is highly likely they are dealing with 50 or more different eBilling tools, each with its guidelines, hoops, and arrangements.

The rapid adoption and implementation of e-billing is mostly credited to the National Automated Clearing House (NACHA) Council for Electronic Billing and Payment (CEBP). The CEBP helped banks and utilities leverage Internet and telecommunication systems to allow payers to pay bills with e-payments and manage their billing information electronically. E-billing, in summary, was designed to reduce paper, simplify the process of paying and receiving proposals online for the client. Invoices are generated digitally by computers and software applications. E-billing is a group of systems and platforms that allows bills to be submitted by the law firm but reviewed electronically to identify any guideline violations which result is a slow or reduced payment. This is a time saver for the client. The legal and professional services industry was not and is still not prepared for the explosion of clients moving to various eBilling websites, but it doesn't stop there. Many clients will transition from one eBilling company to another which further delays processing as matters have to be loaded onto the new website, rates have to be added, and timekeepers updated are just a few of the challenges faced by law firms. The bigger problem is, unlike medical billing and coding where there are courses that teach you how to bill and code, there are no courses offered to teach law firm or professional services firms how to eBill as the software's for Time and Billing as well as the eBill sites are propitiatory.

​ The rapid adoption and implementation of e-billing is mostly credited to the National Automated Clearing House (NACHA) Council for Electronic Billing and Payment (CEBP)  

This ever-growing technology and its use have been the subject of a bidding war for qualified and experienced eBillers. Firms are paying top dollar to get the experience to combat the ever-growing reductions and client demands. The technology has taken on another component. TPA's are now the second set of eyes. If the eBilling platform doesn't catch it, many clients have Third Party Administrators that go through a second review and make additional reductions. E-billing is not going away. Law Firms are struggling to find solutions. The technology while beneficial to the client has law firms still trying to figure out how to get paid on what used to send a bill in the mail, receive a check and perhaps now and then a client expresses dissatisfaction so, the bill is reduced too far more than 60% of invoices submitted electronically are challenged.

What can be done to work with the new eBilling technology in the law firm and professional services environment? The current market structure has eBilling Specialists holding some law firms hostage as they know that the talent pool is limited, and they can make more money across the street. If law firms can find a solution to this systemic problem, which will only grow, they will be better positioned for the ever-changing tide. Smart law firms are using technology to meet the challenges of eBilling. Some have employed the eBillling Hub, a Thompson Reuters product. The automation is designed to notify the law firm of errors before submitting the invoice. It's time a solution is provided for the law firm; the rules are changed within the eBilling platforms. BillBlast is another product that has recently been introduced to the markets as a direct competitor to eBilling Hub. The product displays a great deal more functionality and seems to do a better job of catching reductions before moving it to the client eBilling site. This tool was acquired last year by Aderant.

The solution to the law firm billing problem is partly in technology. The technology being offered by The Aderant, Time and Billing system and the Elite Time and Billing are assisting law firms with many of the eBilling challenges, but that does not solve the talent pool issue. I have found success by taking a variety of steps to combat the staffing and billing challenges that many law firms are experiencing. A sound 21st-century business model is the solution. If you resolve the talent issue, the technology challenges will be few and far between. The adoption and growth of eBilling show no signs of slowing down. The firms that are prepared and proactive will be the go-to firms for many general counsels as they look to control the legal spend, be more efficient, and reduce the outdated paper process.

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