Twenty Years In – Reflections on Ebilling

My 20th anniversary in ebilling has come and gone and I think it worthwhile to reflect back on the industry.

In 1994 law firms didn’t use Windows.  Heck, some legal finance people didn’t use a mouse until after 2000!  TyMetrix’s founder believed there had to be a way for law departments to understand their legal spend.  We worked on the prototype system and held back until the ABA/ACCA UTBMS Codes were released.  We installed the system at the first 13 firms before the end of 1995. I spent most of 1996 on the road and by May more than 220 firms had been on-boarded.  We quickly learned that law firms would not provide electronic billing data unless it was tied to payment of their invoices so, after some redesign, we began receiving invoices in August of 1996 electronically using the model still used today for ebilling.

Once the LEDES 98B format was released, it was amazing to see so many new system offerings.   We were the only company operating with a business model that required professionals from within the client company to review invoices.  And how fortunate for us.  As State Bar Associations issued ethics opinions about breach of confidentiality when invoices are released to third parties for review (intended to crush legal ebilling altogether), our business model ensured no breach of confidentiality would occur.

On the client side, streamlining the receipt, review and payment of invoices within the system made for a much more efficient process.  While some matter information was necessary to administer ebilling, by adding more fulsome matter management functionality there would be far greater ability to manipulate the paid billing data, especially if we included information on how a matter was resolved.  System functionality absolutely exploded with the addition of budgeting, case planning, timekeeper and rate management, scorecarding, accruals, global features, etc.  It was dizzying expanding in so many directions in so short a period.

I can wax nostalgic about this period because there were many visionaries working on solutions.  Really, there were a lot of smart people involved.  Many of the ebilling third-party vendor solutions have been sold, and the new owners focus on retaining clients and increasing market-share.  Today I see many caretakers, not innovators.  Except for adding BI and cross-industry metrics, not much has changed with these systems in the past decade.  And much of the functionality provided for law firms is shameful.

In the past few years there have been a couple new takes on ebilling:  project management with ebilling features (like OnIt or AlignMatters), or Viewabill’s real-time connection to WIP.  But mainstream legal ebilling exists much the same as it did in 2000.

It’s time to throw out the ebilling playbook and reenvision the industry.  If this is on your roadmap, I would be thrilled to help.

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