The roadmap to paperless billing

“The typical manual billing process is a nightmare!” That’s the statement that kicked off our recent webinar with Wilson Allen and Bevan Brittan, looking at the roadmap to paperless billing, particularly now that COVID-19 means there is more urgency and impetus to digitise the billing process.

Bevan Brittan – a UK top 100 law firm with four offices in the UK – in a general month raises around 4,000 invoices and its manual process was, finance director Nick Hodgson said, “pretty challenging.”

In a description that will be familiar to many, Hodgson said that Bevan Brittan previously operated a manual, paper-based process before selecting Wilson Proforma Tracker. They raised a billing guide in one of the offices, which got walked round, marked up and passed around by the team, before it made its way back to the billing team to “interpret the scribbles.” Hodgson said: “It doesn’t take a genius to work out that there are a huge number of possible holes and one thing that always happened was misinterpretation of peoples’ squiggles, and when the invoices went out, we didn’t have sight of the invoice going to the client so there’s a lack of visibility.”

Wilson Allen work with 600-700 law firms, and vice president of technology services, Shishir Shetty, said that this description above describes the typical billing process for around 70-80% of the firms they see. “It may be a PDF instead of paper but they still have to annotate the bill and pass it from person to person,” he said. “Global law offices are shipping paper from office to office. We have firms with 12-35,000 pro formas a month and it’s a problem that firms have lived with a long time but haven’t looked beyond it.”

COVID-19 is changing that: not only are attorneys and secretaries working in distributed offices but so too are the billing staff. The solution for firms with a manual, paper-based or PDF-based process is either to create shared folders or FedEx invoices – a very costly procedure.

Hodgson says: “Before we got on to Proforma Tracker we trialled a cheap and cheerful way of sending out PDFs: it works but there is a huge amount of effort and excel spreadsheets involved.”

Hodgson joined Bevan Britten three years ago when the firm was implementing 3E. At that point, it was decided that the firm needed to bring in more automation – a decision notably driven by the managing partner Duncan Weir. Bevan Brittan is looking at fairly sizeable growth over the next few years and Hodgson said: “Bearing in mind we are already doing 4,000 invoices, if we double that, how big does my billing team need to be? I had a choice to recruit more people or come up with a scalable solution.”

Within 3E there is a workflow engine that you can in theory build yourself given the time and expertise. “I’m not saying we haven’t got those skills but we’re no way experts and it would be a more risky route and wouldn’t provide a clean interface to encourage adoption, so it became clear cut: you don’t mess around with the sales cycle. For us it was an obvious choice to go externally.”

The firm selected Proforma Tracker in 2019 and was live by the end of the year. This year-end, Hodgson says billing was the highest it’s ever been in March and April. The firm is trialling the product on mobile devices.

Hodgson says: “Cash is king and because we added an extra part to show the date the invoice was delivered, it gives us visibility that the bill is out of the door, which helps me no end with credit control.”

Revenue leakage is an area where the firm has seen a huge improvement. Hodgson says: “I always talk about leakage and we have lots of thing in place but circumstantially our leakage has improved by over 30% this year.”

Here are a few of the questions asked during the webinar but for the full interactive experience listen in here:


How long does it take to roll out Proforma Tracker?

Typically, 90 days but Wilson Allen has created an express 30 day package. You don’t immediately get all the extended workflow or advanced functionality but the advantage is that it’s easy to implement quickly.

How did Bevan Brittan manage training?

Hodgson said: “We went live over three months. We trialled it with a distinct group and the next month rolled out to one office. It did make that month harder but then we rolled out the product to the rest of the firm. We had training and webinars going on but every fee earner had an hour’s training before using it. It helped adoption. But because the user interface is intuitive an awful lot pf people can just press buttons and use it.”

Since the lockdown firms are typically training over Zoom calls.

What is the biggest advantage since using Proforma Tracker?

Hodgson said: “We started with some key metrics that we wanted to improve, I wanted to see debtor days drop and leakage reduce. Our debtor days haven’t changed but I wasn’t banking on COVID, so I regard that as a success. But leakage has improved significantly. The number of touchpoints of a bill has markedly reduced. And visibility is better – credit control knows where an invoice is and what stage it’s at. Not only has it saved admin time but fee-earner time.”

What are the benefits over other workflow tools?Shetty told listeners that the product is built specifically for pre-bill management. It’s designed for the firm using a solutions design process. It’s self-managed by the firm.

How do you unpick the billing process?

Shetty said: “If you really want to change billing you have to get down the process and fine tune it. We do a solutions design session. In the good old days we’d sit around a table and have an out of the box workflow and plug people into that. We don’t just say ‘hey do what you want.’ We ask firms for their variation by office and practice but we also ask why they have that – should that be the practice across the firm? At the end we come up with a process involving multiple steps and players and the result is that the firm has a nice definition of what their business process is.”

To listen to the webinar in full click here:

This webinar series is paid for content and brought to you as part of our new Collabor8.IT arm. For further information contact