Before, During, and After: Tales of Digital Billing Transformation
Since digital transformation is a topic of great interest, especially related to finance processes, Wilson Allen recently hosted a panel session and invited representatives from three firms to provide insight into critical aspects of many phases of the paper-to-paperless proforma transformation. Panelists included Leslie Butler, manager, business systems and evidence, SEA, Ltd. (S-E-A), Ronald Gagne, manager of Billing at Mintz, and Joshua Figurski, deputy practice group manager at Michael Best & Friedrich LLP. The session included moderator Jose Hernandez, director of Wilson Proforma Tracker at Wilson Allen, and Shishir Shetty, COO at Wilson Allen, who provided insight as the product creator. Here are highlights from the session.
What prompted your firm to make a change?
Most are aware of the pain of paper-based proforma review and the value proposition for digital billing processes – greater efficiency, better compliance, and improved visibility. When asked what the turning point was for Michael Best to make a change, it was about gaining better control of billing processes and handling the volume of proformas more efficiently.
“We prepare just over 10,000 proformas a month at Michael Best,” Figurski said. “We had conversations about how we affect change to get all of our bills out on time. We were in the process of switching to Elite 3E, so it was a good time for us to evaluate other tools that could help us gain better control, and ultimately, help reduce the amount of non-billable administration time from an attorney standpoint.”
At S-E-A, it was all about improvement. The multi-disciplined forensic engineering firm, which processes around 3,000 proforma each month, had been using a paperless product but was looking for enhancements. “Probably the biggest feature we were looking for was a mobile product,” Butler explained. “Our investigators are on the road about 50% of their time. They had trouble meeting billing deadlines because we were still distributing some paper at the time. Distributing proformas to users on the road was not easy, and then trying to collect them didn’t work so well.”
Mintz was not only looking to modernize its approach to proforma processing for greater efficiency; it was also looking to close some gaps in the process related to reporting. “We wanted to identify any points where people weren’t turning proformas around quickly enough,” explained Gagne. “When we saw a demo of Proforma Tracker, we easily identified how it could close the gaps and help us become more efficient.”
For Butler and Figurski, seeing a demo of Wilson Proforma Tracker was the turning point for their firms as well. “We had a one-on-one demo of Proforma Tracker, and the product had everything we were looking for,” Butler said.
“I walked out of my office after the demo and into our CFO’s office and said, please, buy it,” Figurski added. “There was instant recognition of just how much of a leap forward it was.”
What did your firm do to streamline the implementation?
Mintz has achieved one of the fastest rollouts of Wilson Proforma Tracker so far. After collaborating with Wilson Allen on the solution design, the firm began testing the software, making modifications to align Proforma Tracker with the firm’s 3E processes, particularly related to group billing and write-off processes. Within 30 days of testing, it was ready to go live with the software.
“The timeline was really efficient. We had a project plan and enlisted the help of some billing specialists,” said Gagne. “It was really easy to sell the assistants on the product because it’s so user friendly compared to editing bills in Enterprise or 3E. Rolling it out was not a problem for us. We did our first wave to the front office and with a handful of attorneys within two weeks.”
At Michael Best, Figurski played an active role during the solution design and training phases of the firm’s rollout. “Most of our customizations were related to alternative fee arrangements. We have a red-line editing process. Before sending a marked up proforma back to billing, the attorney can click a preview button to see a draft of the final bill, which incorporates their edits. That’s reduced our second round of billing review by over 80%,” Figurski added.
The firm is at about a 99% adoption rate, having deployed the software over three weeks to more than 250 timekeepers. In the four weeks leading up to the rollout, it did in-person training. Then the safer at home mandate was declared, so it had to get creative. The firm focused training on attorneys that generated the fewest proformas each month first and timed the training for those who generated the most proformas closest to the go-live date.
“We knew that we would be doing a lot of hyper care for people who weren’t going to be doing a lot of billing every month,” Figurski explained. “Ultimately, it wasn’t going to be as detrimental to them not to be trained immediately before going live on the software.”
The last thing Figurski did was create a training “placemat,” a two-sided laminated sheet with a graphic of the user interface and callouts on one side and an index on the other with a broader definition and some helpful tips. “It’s been really helpful. There are some features that people don’t use frequently, and it offers a quick reminder literally at their fingertips,” Figurski added.
For S-E-A, beginning with a small pilot helped instill trust that the software would perform as promised, and so it could perfect its approach to training. “We provided a brief overview and explained the action items. Some of our users would leave the training at that point. The software is so intuitive to use that many people didn’t need full training,” Butler explained. “We also started with the biggest selling point for our users, which was its mobile capabilities, and that helped with buy-in and got people interested in what we were doing.”
Butler explains the S-E-A never announced Proforma Tracker as a product to the company. Word of mouth spread the good news. “I was once approached outside of my office by someone who said, ‘Hey, I just heard about this new product, when are we getting it?’ It was a great feeling to build excitement around something we knew would be very helpful to our users,” Butler added.
How has the software changed the way tasks are completed or the firm operates?
Mintz has 19 billing specialists and processes anywhere from 12,000 to 14,000 proformas each month. The firm has seen about a 35-40% reduction in time spent editing bills and fewer review cycles. 90% of bills are completed by the middle of each month rather than the third and fourth week, even after an increase in business in the last six months. But also, the firm has seen a reduction in write-downs.
“With Proforma Tracker, we were able to build in an automated approval process based on thresholds of write-downs, and that has, in turn, also impacted revenue,” Gagne added. “Since our CFO or a section manager may push back on a write-off, they’re more careful in the amount of value they’re writing off.”
At S-E-A, the finance team is exceeding its accounting deadlines and closing its books earlier because it has been able to push proformas through more quickly. “With paper or PDFs, you don’t know where the proforma is in the process, or you have to interpret handwriting. Now we can generate proformas, and our investigators can pull them up on their iPads and start reviewing them immediately,” Butler said. “In many cases, we’re getting proformas back in a couple of days and can issue the bills right away rather than wait for all of the proformas to be returned. That’s been a significant time-saver for us. We’ve been able to make billing a two-week process without adding any staff.”
In addition to time savings, S-E-A has seen a reduction in work in process. “Every proforma is processed through the workflow. Any deferrals require a manager’s approval. I haven’t had to send as many emails asking about old work in process,” Butler added.
At Michael Best, there has been a lot of change in a relatively short amount of time. It digitally transformed its accounts payable processes in the spring, implemented Elite 3E in early summer, rolled out Wilson Proforma Tracker a month later, and reorganized its billing department into pods.
“We’ve automated the application of most edits in Wilson Proforma Tracker except for fixed-fee codes and comments added by attorneys, so we anticipate a significant reduction in our time to complete proformas,” Figurski said. “Plus, there’s been a tangible impact on visibility in the billing department. In the last three months, we’ve effectively eliminated the number of issues we’ve had with proformas not being uploaded on time.”
The firm has recently taken on a significant amount of new work, which means more client bills for the finance team to process – and potentially more opportunities for clients to reject bills. This is less of a concern now that the firm uses Wilson Proforma Tracker.
“It gives me peace of mind to be able to see clients bills before they’re distributed, especially as it relates to our newer clients,” Figurski added. “I can preview bills in Proforma Tracker before we ever send our first invoice to a new client and make sure it’s meeting their billing guidelines so it’s not rejected. But more importantly, it helps us start the relationship off on the right foot. We don’t want to send something out of our billing department, which would make it seem that there’s a disconnect between the attorney and the client requirements.”
Any final lessons learned or peer advice?
The session concluded with the panel describing final words of wisdom in addition to answering questions from callers. Please sign up to watch a replay of the session for details and for additional input offered by Shishir Shetty and Jose Hernandez.