Associate editor Caroline Hill reports... Following on from our story in December about UK real time billing startup Apperio, news comes from the US that Viewabill – a similar startup which launched just under two years ago – is now working with half of the American Lawyer 100.
Ohio-founded Viewabill is a software-as-a-service product that enables corporate legal departments to see billable activity across all their law firms in real time. A dashboard shows total spend, the total number of hours billed, the average hourly rate and a daily activity graph. It drills down further into top active time keepers and top actives matters as well as the current balance due.
Unlike Apperio, which has so far dealt with in-house legal teams direct, Viewabill’s clients are law firms, which pay to share their pre-bill activity with their clients, either at the client’s request or as a way to promote their own proactivity and innovation.
Viewabill’s director of marketing, Daniel Steinberg told the Legal IT Insider: “We’ve been working closely with about half of the Am Law 100 and their corporate clients.” Reed Smith, Pepper Hamilton and Perkins Coie are among the law firms using Viewabill with clients including LinkedIn, Kia Motors, MGM Resorts International and NetApp.
While there was initially some resistance to this level of innovation in billing, Steinberg says: “Over half of the Am Law 100 are starting to appreciate Viewabill’s ability to show value to their corporate clients, promote an air of trust, and to position themselves as being at the forefront of the future of the practice of law.”
Vincent Cordo, global director of client value at Reed Smith, said: “By highlighting that you’re assessing these items, it shows the culture of the firm is promoting administrative collaboration with partners on overlooking matter health, as real time as they can, and reporting on those metrics with clients.”
For some time the trend among corporate counsel has been away from the billable hour towards alternative fee arrangements but Viewabill’s argument is that the end game for both sides is increased transparency and predictability, which Viewabill provides.
Justin Liu, associate general counsel at MGM, said: “Frequently, we have our business and finance folks, and sometimes even members of our board of directors asking us how much a certain legal matter has cost us to date, or what we’re spending on a litigation. Being able to see this in real time whenever we want, through a platform, is something that’s definitely becoming a higher priority for us.”
Viewabill was co-founded by solicitor and former general counsel of Astor and Black Custom Clothiers in Columbus, Ohio, Robbie Friedman, alongside the former CEO and founder of Astor and Black, David Schottenstein, and retired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.
Comment: The demand for transparency and efficiency among in-house counsel is a massive trend but some general counsel may still need persuading that day-to-day monitoring of law firms’ fees is time worth spending. The benefit of a fixed fee is that once it’s in place, it can be forgotten about and is a way of maintaining that all important trust between counsel and adviser. Having said that, the fact that the cost of this service is shouldered by the law firm may be just the sweetener corporate counsel need.