E-Billing Initiatives Improve In-House Relationships With Outside Counsel

Monday, March 1, 2004 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Barbara F. White, Director, Legal Administration, Merck & Co., Inc.

Editor: Please tell our readers about Merck's e-billing initiatives.

Like most other law departments, cost containment continues to be one of our top priorities. Always on the lookout for streamlining our procedures, we turn to technology to help us do things more efficiently with fewer resources.
For many years, we've enjoyed an excellent relationship with our information technology group. They've helped us to streamline communications, budget processing, training and other functions. It was a natural for us to adopt an e-billing solution.

Editor: How did you hear about the DataCert e-billing solution?

A partner of DataCert at the time, UPS sent us a brochure describing its e-billing solution. After a couple of demonstrations, we began testing the product about two years ago. During the implementation period, our IT strategic manager worked with the DataCert experts to ensure that the DataCert product linked with our case management system, satisfied our security requirements and was easy for our legal team to use. We enjoyed working with the DataCert experts; they were responsive and knew what they were doing.

Editor: How well was the DataCert e-billing solution received by Merck's outside counsel?

When we first implemented the DataCert e-billing solution, we used the 80:20 rule. That is, we estimated that 20 percent of the law firms we use generate 80 percent of the bills. When we contacted the 30-35 law firms, we were delighted to learn that a lot of them were already using the DataCert e-billing solution. I'd like to thank the early adopters for making the transition very easy for us.

Editor: Please describe how the DataCert e-billing solution is being used by Merck.

We use AIMS, which is DataCert's Advanced Invoice Management System. Law firms transmit their bills to a secure server maintained by DataCert. The AIMS software performs an initial validation check to confirm that the firm has been authorized by Merck to submit bills. The AIMS software then uses the rules we developed to flag items requiring closer scrutiny.

Editor: Please give an example of the rules you use.

Secretarial fees are typically bundled with the attorney's fees. If a bill includes a separate line item for a secretarial fee, the item is flagged. Another example is if a line item for copying exceeds the price per copy set forth in our outside counsel guidelines. We also flag out-of-date items. For example, if a January bill includes a line item dated the previous September, the item is flagged.

Editor: Have you reduced the time it takes for bill review?

The DataCert solution delivers bills directly to the desktop of the in-house attorneys responsible for overseeing the relevant matter. If an attorney does not complete review within the set time period, the bill automatically is sent to the attorney's supervisor. We have found this to be a great incentive for prompt review of bills.

Editor: How has the DataCert solution helped to improve case management?

Given the complexity of matters, consolidation of law firms and ability to code more billing information, outside counsel's bills are no longer just two sheets of paper. Now in an electronic format, the DataCert solution enables the bills, no matter what their length, to be sorted in any of a number of views. For example, items on a bill can be sorted by date, task code, attorney or other timekeeper.
The DataCert solution automatically downloads the billing information into our case management system. This enables the attorney responsible for a matter to go into the archive to keep a handle on the outside counsel's billing over an extended period of time.

Editor: How do e-billing initiatives improve in-house relationships with outside counsel?

One efficiency of e-billing results from flagging billing problems early in the review process. Often these can be addressed at the administrative level, freeing up time for attorneys to focus on substantive matters. If a question about a billing item remains, the e-billing solution provides details that improve the quality of the dialog needed to resolve the issues. The bottom line is that when billing problems are resolved quickly and bills are paid faster, relationships are improved.