Expert Group Forms to Create UTBMS Knowledge Management Codes

Old friends Corinna Codd and Rajitha Boer at Yerra Solutions ( 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.

See You at Legal Tech!

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.

Welcome to the GLE Blog!

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.