Guest blog by Bryan King, Independent E-Billing Consultant
The legal e-billing market has been dominated for years by the large software vendors emanating from the North American market. Today, following several mergers and take-overs, ownership now concentrates in three or four major players. While these US vendors still have the largest market share and dominate the electronic invoicing of legal services solutions space, the scenario is changing. A variety of new e-billing or legal spend management solutions are entering the market and challenging the status quo.
Why do we need new e-billing solutions?Some of the criticisms levelled at these older US based e-billing systems, apart from the fact that they do not necessarily appreciate the European cultural, regulatory and tax differences, is that they are very cumbersome, if not “clunky”, and do not sit well with the current trend in IT for software of requiring “no installation”. They require a degree of user set-up, law firm registration, often do not use intelligent defaults; and need regular maintenance of reference data, such as time-keeper details and charge out rates.
Other negative comments often made are that the US based e-billing vendors are too “corporate” and inflexible in their approach. Also, many law firms, especially those not using the large time and billing systems, are not able to produce Legal Electronic Data Exchange Standard (LEDES) files and so the view is that e-billing has not delivered on its promise to clients and law firms.
What do the new e-billing solutions offer?Over the past few years, new solution providers have come into the market – both in the US and from within the EU. Interestingly, some of these solutions have been founded by lawyers who realised that many clients (and law firms) were resisting the more “traditional” e-billing solutions.
These new solutions bring a fresh perspective to legal spend management and utilise tools and techniques that are breaking ground in the delivery of IT services. For instance:
- They are easy to configure, and use intelligent defaults and data driven user set-up.
- They use text recognition software to read/convert the data from the e-bills or from PDF documents.
- They take advantage of the latest developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) to automate the bill review process, categorise narratives and provide pricing analytics.
- Some combine AI with machine learning to enhance the data mining possibilities of the invoice information to enable the client to make better and informed decisions.
- At least one new e-billing solution is totally “Apps” based – and fits the current trend for mobile working and smart phone access.
- All claim to offer a low cost of ownership as they require no on-site installation and are delivered as web services.
- They are easily integrated with other client applications such as document/knowledge management, project management, calendaring and the standard desktop – also reducing IT cost for the client.
- They cover a wide range of business processes – from requests for proposals, procurement, matter budgeting, resource planning and project management, through to e-billing, reporting and management information – with easy to understand metrics for corporate legal departments and law firms.
- They facilitate collaborative working between the client and the outside counsel. Among other things, they allow the client to review ‘Work in Progress’ and expenses in the pre-billing stages of each matter.
As a result, these “new kids on the block” are winning and taking customers away from the existing e-billing vendors. There is no doubt that these next generation legal spend management solutions are gaining ground. Many e-billing solutions have been in client organisations for up to 10 years; and like for all software solutions, users will be seeking to replace existing systems for new and current functionality. The new providers are in an excellent position to lure customers away from the existing e-billing solution vendors.
About Bryan King
Bryan King is an independent consultant, advising law firms and in-house legal departments on e-billing issues; and assisting with the successful implementation of legal spend management projects. Prior to this, he has senior IT management positions at Linklaters, Lovells and Clifford Chance. At Clifford Chance, he also held global responsibility for the firm’s electronic invoicing (e-billing) projects.