Survey data on e-billing systems and their penetration of AMLAW 200 defies belief — comments

In a previous post about survey data on e-billing at AMLAW 200 firms (See my post of Oct. 26, 2007.), I strongly questioned the data, in light of the previous year’s data and my consulting experience. To test my reaction, I sent the post to six vendors of e-billing solutions and asked them to comment. Here are the observations, edited slightly, of Rob Thomas of Serengeti and Mary Clark of LexisNexis Examen, both of whom made thoughtful points and graciously permitted me to attribute their comments. First are their explanations for the inaccurate data, and then their company statistics

Incomplete knowledge by respondent. A major problem with surveys is that they are generally dependent upon the scope of knowledge of the volunteer who received the form. Unless that person makes an effort to hunt down answers to questions throughout a large law firm, their responses on behalf of the entire firm will be inaccurate. This is particularly a problem when you ask a “technology manager” (whatever that means—not a typical title in a law firm) whether a large law firm with multiple offices is using e-billing, a technology that may only need to be used by a few billing clerks. [Rob Thomas, Serengeti]

E-billing doesn’t rise to awareness of many. With most vendors, e-billing involves no installation of any hardware or software. It also doesn’t involve an acquisition decision by the firm, whose clients make the decision to require e-billing from their firms. Because e-billing does not necessarily cause the firm to change its internal bill approval procedures, just the final step of transmitting the bill, it is conceivable that only billing clerks at some firms need to know that e-billing is happening. Therefore, it is not uncommon that the powers that be at large law firms are not aware that their firm is conducting e-billing at all, let alone e-billing involving specific vendors. [Rob Thomas, Serengeti]

Sometimes no costs, so no awareness. For some e-billing systems, law firm managers may not realize that Serengeti specifically is being used by their firms because, unlike other vendors, we do not charge law firms to use our system. Other e-billing vendors who do charge them significant fees (thousands of dollars per client per year or a percentage of the bills that they send in) may ironically be better known at the higher levels of the firms, because of their unhappiness at having to make large payments to those vendors each year for services that the firms see little apparent benefit from. [Rob Thomas, Serengeti]

Law firms have multiple offices. Depending on whether or not they have centralized billing, each office may have different e-billing administrator or, in some cases, none. Additionally, firms with foreign offices may bill based on where services are performed. For example, a firm’s Hong Kong office may bill independently from its US home office. In other cases, sometimes the US home offices are not adept at managing VAT and the billing function stays abroad. [Mary Clark, LexisNexis Examen]

Multiple names by which e-billing software is known. E-billing vendors have e-billing functionality incorporated into multiple products with different names. In the case of LexisNexis Examen, for example, customers might know of the functionality not only by the Examen name, but also as part of CounselLink, LegalPrecision, RightSource, LegalPath or ABR. If the product names are not listed in the survey, then the recipient might not respond positively to the survey question. [Mary Clark, LexisNexis Examen]

Concealment by law firms. Some law firms, for whatever reason, do not admit or advertise to their clients that they are e-billing enabled. [Mary Clark, LexisNexis Examen]

According to Thomas, Serengeti has connected with 199 out of the Am Law 200 law firms for e-billing. According to Clark, of the AmLaw 200, LexisNexis currently supports 98% of the firms.

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