There has been a flurry of activity in the press this week regarding a lawsuit alleging overbilling by a major law firm and references emails thought to be “funny” between some law firm employees.
I have collected articles on billing fraud and overbilling throughout my almost 20 year career in ebilling. These situations typically fall into the category of billing irregularities (some resulting in criminal penalties), or outright embezzlement within law firm or law department. Some of the stories are so outrageous they are hard to believe.
The legal ebilling discipline exists as the result of a very serious fraud situation that occurred in California in the mid-1980′s. To read more about it, see The “Alliance” Insurance Fraud: A Case Study in the Civil Prosecution of Business Crime, by Neil P. Getnick and James P. Schratz. If you have ever wondered why insurance companies were the first users of bill auditing and legal ebilling, this case explains why.
Another great read is The Honest Hour: The Ethics of Time-Based Billing By Attorneys by William G. Ross, available on Amazon.
On one hand, law firm billing staff frequently lament measures used by clients during electronic bill review, believing the sole reason for legal ebilling is to cut fees to the bone. On the other hand, bad press like this current case underscores clients’ belief that they are being overbilled for legal services and need strict control over their bill review processes. I believe the truth lies somewhere in between. My experience is that clients are looking to pay fairly for the services provided to them in accordance with their billing guidelines, and most of the billing irregularities I’ve encountered are the result of poorly trained staff. While there are exceptions, I believe it is important recognize these are exceptions and not the norm.
I had the great good fortune to be invited to a Thomson Reuters event during Legal Tech featuring a discussion by Walter Isaacson, author of biographies on Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and Henry Kissinger. His topic was innovation in business and he was fabulous.
As Walter pointed out, what distinguishes the truly brilliant is their attention to detail, incredible focus and their relentlessness in pursuing understanding or a solution. These traits may not be accompanied by gracious social skills, however the truly brilliant often have the ability to inspire others to greatness or influence others with their passion. For these people, a “good enough” solution isn’t good enough because they consider their work to be a masterpiece.
Importantly, Walter observed that the needs of a profit-driven enterprise limit creativity. At some point the focus on innovation must cease in order for products to go to market or updates to be released. A business must thrive in order for a creative environment to exist. Finding balance is the trick.
I found the discussion to be very inspirational. Like me, I’m sure the other attendees walked away re-energized, recommitted to passionately seeking better solutions and appreciative of work environments that encourage innovation.
I have been to Legal Tech pretty much every year since it was first held and the main topic of discussion for at least the past decade has been eDiscovery. This year I will be looking for feedback on usage of the UTBMS eDiscovery Task Codes released last year and to monitor the spread of legal ebilling to the eDiscovery community.
There is still some work to do fully align UTBMS coding and legal ebilling to the EDRM Metrics Cube. The revised UTBMS Activity and Expense Codes are in the final stages of ratification, and the LOC needs to kick-off a project to update the timekeeper positions used in the LEDES© ebilling formats. But neither of these prevents clients from using the eDiscovery Task Codes now to finally gain insight into their eDiscovery spend.
The LEDES Oversight Committee members’ meeting on Tuesday, January 29th will include a discussion on the UTBMS Activity and Expense Code revision project and the codes which have been recommended for ratification. Non-members are welcome to attend. See www.ledes.org for more information on the members meeting.
A quick update on the LEDES Oversight Committee’s Activity and Expense Code Project: The public comment period closed on 26 October and we received only 8 comments on the proposed revisions. The subcommittee will meet shortly to review the comments and move this project ahead, so look for more on this in future postings.
I am not entirely comfortable with “putting things out there” to share with the world. For this reason this blog will be more business and industry focused than a vehicle to relate personal thoughts and experiences.
That said, I want to share something I did the other day that was really interesting. In celebration of its 40th anniversary, the UConn Women’s Center invited Gloria Steinem to speak. Amazingly, Gloria is 78 years old! Her discussion was brilliant and in the spirit of one of her topics, women supporting women in business, I would like to give a shout out to Rebecca, Lauryn, Louann, Cathi and Babs. These ladies are the finest women in legal technology today, all are wonderful role models and working with them is a joy. I salute you all.