For law firms and their clients alike, accurate and timely billing has long remained an issue of contention, often fracturing healthy fee earner-client relationships. Fundamentally, the bigger the gap between a piece of work being performed and invoice presented, the greater the likelihood of the bill being questioned and the payment cleared.
One of the key reasons for the lack of timely invoicing is that often in law firms, billing is a time consuming, paper-based and manual process, which leads to delays and inaccuracies. But with the help of technology, accurate billing can be an easy win for fee earners and the wider law firm. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems provide functionality that can automate and centralise the billing process, delivering transparency, accuracy and efficiency. Crucially, firms can configure the functionality to their organisations way of working.
For instance, with LexisOne, firms can utilise workflows that allow invoices to follow different processes and patterns. An invoice created by a fee earner can follow a workflow process that automatically takes the bill through the approval process in the department all the way to the finance department before it is issued to the client. The same invoice, if above a certain value, could follow a slightly different workflow process for authorisation, to ensure that it has been vetted by for example a Partner, before reaching the finance department for issuance.
Alternatively, based on working practices and agreements with clients, firms can even fully automate the invoicing process – requiring no involvement from the fee earners for invoice generation. Depending on requirements, a firm could generate invoices on a monthly basis, at defined intervals during the course of a matter, an agreed value or any other metric.
Automated and centralised billing can greatly help firms to reduce lock-up. Typically, in the absence of proper billing processes, it is left to the fee earners to raise invoices, which may not always be timely due to their workload and/or focus on delivering legal advice.
Automated billing capability also delivers insight to firms, which can further help streamline processes for efficiency. Visibility of things like why certain practice groups work differently to others, which clients pay on time and who are typically late, the identification of workload issues for some fee earners and so on can help firms take the necessary measures to remove such obstacles. Furthermore, firms can also undertake more accurate business forecasting, based on the work breakdown structure. For example, fee earners can quickly understand the accumulated 'actual effort' hours and cost consumption on a given matter or task. This valuable input helps fee earners to manage client expectations and deliver a distinctive experience.
Additionally, LexisOne offers time saving print management capability. If invoices are sent via the post, the invoices generated can be automatically printed for distribution. If the practice is to send an invoice via post and electronically, the ERP system can be set up to do the same. Perhaps of great value to the credit control department is that invoices generated are automatically stored within LexisOne. This means that the credit control department can locate invoices, reprint as required and have complete visibility of the bills generated in real-time.
Especially, in the current environment where alternative fee arrangements have become the norm, a well-oiled billing process can play a key role in reducing lock-up, which is the bane of many law firms today.