Consultants Corner Managing Law Firm Relationships Using Electronic Invoicing

Thursday, December 1, 2005 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Geoff Elfman, Vice President, Firm Customer Support, DataCert, Inc. Questions about this interview can be directed to him at geoff.elfman@datacert.com.

Editor: Please give our readers a little history of DataCert.

Elfman: DataCert started business in 1998 with a single focus - to facilitate the movement of invoice data electronically from law firms to their corporate clients in a standardized format. The key was that it needed to be easily used for analysis.

Its founders were several pioneers in the electronic invoicing industry, not merely lawyers or technologists, but experts who created a process for managing invoices, invoice data, and law firm relationships.

Editor: How did DataCert contribute to the industry initiatives that helped lead to the rapid adoption of electronic invoicing for corporate legal departments?

Elfman: We were very involved in the development of the Legal Electronic Data Exchange Standard (LEDES), a standards organization that created a standard file format for legal electronic invoices. We were also heavily involved in the development of the Uniform Task Based Management System (UTBMS) code sets used by law firms and legal vendors.

Editor: Please explain your role at the company.

Elfman: My role at the company focuses on managing law firm services including law firm/vendor implementations, integration and support. Among other things, I am responsible for developing a roadmap for future firm services and leading the initiatives specific to their development and release.

Editor: Please tell our readers how you built DataCert's expertise in law firm and vendor support.

Elfman: We discovered early on that to create a solution for managing electronic invoices quickly and efficiently, we needed to build a department devoted to working directly with law firms. I was tasked with building a team of professionals to implement and support the law firms, so we recruited from a variety of backgrounds, including corporate legal, law firm, customer service and technical experience. The group we assembled was responsible for a great deal of our success in this market.

Editor: What background did you bring to your leadership position at DataCert?

Elfman: I joined DataCert with more than 20 years of experience in technical management. My experience included managing computing and telecommunications systems, systems analysis and implementations, and software development, evaluation, installation and training. Prior to DataCert, I was Director of Information Systems at Forsyth Engineering/Production Tool Corp., where I was responsible for implementing accounting, job costing and ERP systems. I have extensive experience managing the rollout of complex systems, data conversion and integration. I received a bachelor's degree in electronics technology/ computer engineering from the University of Houston, which allows me a technical edge in management.

Editor: How have you seen your department evolve in the last seven years?

Elfman: In the early years, we learned how best to help law firms implement electronic invoicing, and a lot of our time was spent educating them about file formats and coding. Nowadays, we tend to spend more time discussing client specific requirements because electronic invoicing in general is pretty common among medium to larger firms, and more and more so for smaller firms. Initially, the same group of DataCert professionals that implemented law firms also provided support after a firm was sending invoices to their client. A few years ago, we had to break the area into two departments to better serve our clients and maintain a high level of responsiveness.

Editor: Please tell our readers a little about DataCert's services.

Elfman: We can move invoices that have detail level information using our ShareDoc service, as well as an image of a paper invoice as an attachment using our QuickInvoice service. Using QuickInvoice, a firm simply goes to our website, enters a few simple items in a web form and attaches the document image. It's quick and easy to use and geared towards law firms that submit small invoices. Using the ShareDoc service, a firm logs onto our website and submits an invoice that includes all line item detail. Again, it's very easy to use.

Editor: How many law firms and vendors are currently on DataCert's system?

Elfman: We currently have almost 3,000 individual firms and vendors using DataCert's systems, and many of them have more than one office location sending invoices. A good portion of the firms actually submit to two or more clients (28 percent), and it's not unusual for larger firms to send to 15 or more clients on our system. We have almost 6,000 law firm or vendor to corporate client connections in total. Additionally, 97 percent of America's highest grossing law firms are DataCert customers, and law firms in all 50 states and most U.S. territories use our service.

Editor: How does DataCert manage customer satisfaction?

Elfman: This is an area that we're particularly proud of at DataCert. We've spent a tremendous amount of time and energy tailoring our firm implementation process to the individual needs of the law firms and vendors, and we treat each implementation as an individually structured project through use of a sophisticated project management system. Another thing we've found helpful is to assign a single point of contact to assist the firm for the entire implementation, and we try to assign a person that the firm is already familiar with wherever possible. This helps build a relationship that truly allows the firm to get whatever level of assistance they need from a person they trust.

After a firm has completed the implementation process, they're assigned to our firm support group for future assistance. The firm support group operates as a call center to ensure issues are resolved as quickly as possible.

Editor: What can a law firm or vendor expect when they receive a request to begin electronic invoicing?

Elfman: We have a fairly straight-forward process, so if they've worked with us before, they know the drill. We developed a unique eight-step implementation process to get firms up and running as quickly as possible, and we follow this process each and every time to ensure we cover all the bases with the firms. Basically, the firms receive a notice from their client that an electronic invoicing initiative has begun. After that, we work directly with them until they're comfortable using our system to send invoices.

Editor: I noticed that you mentioned a unique implementation process. Please explain this process.

Elfman: It's really very simple. Once the firm receives a notice from their client that they should begin invoicing electronically, they receive a welcome kit from DataCert that includes all the information they need to get started, as well as target dates for different phases of the project. They go on-line to our website, enter their user information in an easy-to-use web form, and then we walk them through testing for compliance of file format and any client specific requirements. Once testing is complete, they wait for the next billing cycle so they can begin sending invoices electronically to their client through our system.

Editor: What level of experience does DataCert have implementing and supporting law firms and vendors?

Elfman: DataCert was a pioneer in this market, and we've developed a strong, skills-based team devoted to implementing and supporting law firms and vendors. We've developed special technologies that allow us to provide the highest levels of customer service and support, and we have a huge amount of in-house experience working with firms. We've had firms call us with questions even when we were not the electronic invoicing provider because they know they can count on us for help.

Editor: As electronic invoicing has changed over the years, how has your department grown?

Elfman: As I mentioned, we originally implemented and supported a law firm or vendor within the same group of persons, so the same person implementing a firm was the one that provided support after the firm was sending invoices to their client. As we grew, it became necessary to split the groups apart. During the implementation, we maintain a one-to-one relationship with a DataCert implementation coordinator and a law firm representative. After the law firm is live, they will contact the customer support department if issues arise. The DataCert implementation and support groups have grown as we brought on more clients, but they've remained very team-based and work closely together. As firms became more familiar with electronic invoicing in general, we're able to specialize and focus expertise where it's critically needed. This benefits both the firms and DataCert, and makes the process more efficient.

Editor: What makes DataCert different from other electronic invoicing vendors?

Elfman: Some of the things we consistently hear from the firms in our user surveys is that we provide excellent support during the implementation and beyond, and that our system is extremely easy to use. Other things that set us apart are our flexible pricing, the high levels of security built into our systems, the large number of firm to corporate client connections, a dedicated team of firm implementation and support representatives, a real-time delivery notification system, and expansion into international markets.

Editor: Please explain DataCert's initiative to expand into international markets.

Elfman: Because of overwhelming corporate client demand, we now move invoices from countries around the world. We started our expansion in 2002, and have rapidly grown to the point that we now have an office in London. Not only have our U.S. based clients requested foreign firms submit through our system, we now have international clients receiving from international and domestic firms. In fact, 94 percent of the top global law firms are DataCert customers.

Editor: How many countries and currencies do you currently support?

Elfman: We now service 100 countries, and we are moving invoices submitted in 25 currencies. This is an exciting and challenging market, and DataCert is doing everything necessary to remain the market leader.