Acquisition of LT Online by Mitratech

I constantly hear rumors of MMEB vendor systems for sale, and the rumor mill has been buzzing for the past few months.

I read today that LT Online Corporation, who offers the Lawtrac system, has been acquired by Mitratech.  Congratulations to Frank Orzo and his team.

This follows acquisitions in the past few years of TyMetrix by CT Corporation, Tripoint by CT Corporation, Mitratech by Vista Equity Partners, Serengeti by Thomson Reuters, Visabillity by Bottomline Technologies and Allegient also by Bottomline Technologies.

It is always interesting to see what the new owner will do with these systems once acquired.  Many don’t fully understand the lengthy sales cycle.  Others lack product vision or the commitment necessary to evolve the product.  Others still see acquisition as the opportunity to acquire customers and, after a short period of stasis, stop selling and eventually withdraw support for the product.  It will be interesting to see what happens in this case.

New Ebilling Administration and LEDES Generation Tools

In the last few months I have heard about quite a few new products for law firms to create LEDES invoice files or to administer ebilling.  Halleluiah!  We need more alternatives to generate the more complex LEDES formats and to make ebilling administration within the law firm more efficient.  What am I talking about?

Over the summer I learned about Kestrel’s eBillingFlow, a tool for law firms to create, track and report on ebills.  Looks like a great solution to help administer ebilling.

BillBlast is another ebilling administration tool that looks fabulous and offers back analytics to the law firm.  The product development team has actual experience with client requirements and the lack of technology for law firm billers to deliver and manage ebills efficiently.

TyMetrix will soon release a rebranded version of the old LEDESense program that they purchased a couple years back, now called eBillingDesk.  The program facilitates the creation of the more complex LEDES invoice formats and is a great invoice editing tool.  I was fortunate to get an advanced peek at the tool and liked what I saw.

New Legal Ebilling Offering for Law Departments

There is a new ebilling offering for law departments called Viewabill is a very new take on the client’s desire to manage better.  The system gives clients the ability to monitor work performed by outside counsel real time.  It allows clients to monitor services provided while work is underway instead of discovering four or more weeks later when a bill is submitted that the work deviated from the agreed to plan.  With this system there should never be any surprises.

I am intrigued by this product for a couple of reasons:  it completely eliminates the need to provide accrual information, and it provides insight into the actual services performed under a flat fee instead of producing a shadow invoice.   These are two of the most cumbersome manual processes in ebilling today and with Viewabill they are not a factor.

More importantly, it represents a new take on ebilling.  I always have been intellectually interested to see how ebilling will evolve.  Will this be a better mouse trap?  I can’t wait to see.

I do feel the need to caution law firms.  Now is the time to get your billing practices in order.  Because Viewabill allows clients to see real time data, time must be entered on a timely (daily) basis, as cleanly as possible and in accordance with the client’s billing guidelines.  You don’t have the luxury of the billing process to massage raw entries under this system.  I suggest you don’t wait until one of your clients requests your firm to use this kind of system before you start to put your timekeeping practices in order.

Expert Group Forms to Create UTBMS Knowledge Management Codes

Old friends Corinna Codd and Rajitha Boer at Yerra Solutions (www.yerrasolutions.com) have been in contact about creating an UTBMS code set specific to knowledge management services.  They are forming an expert group and will start work on the codes this summer.  They expect to have a final set to present at their conference in London in late October.  Thereafter the work of the expert group will be presented to the LEDES Oversight Committee for review and ratification.

It is helpful when expert groups like this form to consider subject matter that may be outside the mainstream expertise of the LEDES membership.

I was pleased to be invited to participate in this effort and look forward to working with their global expert group.

LOC Reconsiders Timekeeper Classifications

I have been appointed by the LEDES Oversight Committee to lead a new effort to reconsider the timekeeper positions used in the LEDES invoice standards.

The project originates from the LOC’s commitment to extending the LEDES schema to support the billing of eDiscovery services.  You may recall that the LOC released eDiscovery Task codes in 2011.  Earlier this year the LOC released revised Activity and Expense Codes, another project led by me, that considered not only changes necessary to support eDiscovery but also changes needed across all of legal.

Like the Activity and Expense Code effort, the timekeeper revision project will look at changes necessary to support eDiscovery and also global legal needs associated with timekeeper positions.  We have a small group of volunteers to staff this effort.  I have timekeeper position considered by the Jackson Review project and the subcommittee will be reaching out to colleagues in different jurisdictions for suggestions for inclusion.

It is also expected that the LOC’s Timekeeper Attributes Standard ratified in 2007 will be updated as part of this project.  More information on the Timekeeper Attributes Standard can be found here.

Look for more on this as the effort proceeds.

Jackson Review Project in England and Wales

I was honored to be included in the short list of individuals requested to provide feedback on the UTBMS code set drafted by the Jackson Review team.   The full project team includes participants local to the England and Wales jurisdictions and, considering that I am based in the US, it was a particular honor to be asked to review their work product.

The draft code set reflects a different way of considering the services provided by law firms and other legal vendors on litigation matters as compared to the original sets set forth in the US.  I found the beta set to be very thoughtful and provided a few comments for consideration by the team as they move toward finalizing their recommendations.  I am anxious to see their final work product released for public use later this summer.

This project marks a new era in legal ebilling.

  • The original constituencies involved in setting standards for legal ebilling were law departments, law firms, consultants, time and billing vendors and the third-party ebilling vendors, and resulted in the formation of the LEDES Oversight Committee.
  • We have seen tax authorities in Latin America get involved, legally requiring XML files with electronic invoicing information to run through systems hosted by the tax authority or its designees in order to ensure the government receives appropriate tax payments.
  • The Jackson project marks the first jurisdictional-specific UTBMS code set whose usage will be codified into law.

I expect we will see more efforts like this in the future.

Law Firm Survival: Accountability and Process Management

Nicholas Murphy-Whymark sent me a link to an interesting article on law firm financial management called Riding the Perfect Storm by John Mullins.  My first impression is that the points in the article were just common sense.   Upon reflection, however, the article contains a lot of subtext, principally that lawyers need to change the way they conduct business in order to survive.  They keep throwing Band-Aids on it, but fundamentally they are continuing to practice as they have in the past.

I think the discussion should extend beyond just financial management.

The law firm partnership structure, by its nature, is unsupportable.  A partnership must be properly leveraged to be profitable.  It requires a vast number of associates to consistently bill a ridiculous number of hours in order to maintain consistent Per Partner Profit.  There is the lure of the partnership track, the idea that associates who work x number of years at a required level will be rewarded with an offer to become a member of the firm.  When this occurs, more associates need to be brought on-board to bill a ridiculous number of hours…  Resulting in more becoming partners…  The model is a ravenous beast that must be fed.  The reality is that, after a certain point, the only way a firm can survive is to merge with other firms and use this as an opportunity to reconfigure the partnership ranks.

When the global economic downturn occurred a few years ago, instead of making real change, most law firms cut administrative staff, reduced expenses and simply waited for the economy to rebound.   As John Mullins states effectively, more is needed for law firms to survive.

There’s another perspective to consider.  We’ve seen recent reports in the press on how some of the cost-management techniques used by law departments have been unsuccessful.  In fact, in many cases these cost management strategies have resulted in higher overall legal expense.  How is this possible?  As it turns out, expected savings from discounted rates are negated by increased overall billing.  Another interesting finding is that law departments that reduced the number of matters referred to a law firm for handling resulted in less partner attention on matters and many additional hours billed by associates without the necessary level of expertise to handle the matter efficiently.

Clients and now the UK court system are demanding accountability.  Client systems that provide collaborative insight into case management, budgeting and billing processes have been de rigueur for years although, and I am generalizing, it seems like many attorneys do not understand this reality.  Lord Justice Jackson’s review project in the UK has brought a dawning awareness that there is accountability in legal process management and failures can be catastrophic for a law firm. Why has it taken this long for this discussion to occur?  Are we paying attention in the US?

For a different but related discussion, I recommend a Legal IQ podcast by Professor Richard Susskind, Advice on Information Governance and eDisclosure for Tomorrow’s Lawyers.

Billing Excesses and Bad Press

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.

Creativity and Innovation in Business

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.