When attorney Robbie Friedman agreed to represent his childhood friend's custom apparel company, both men were determined to keep their close friendship intact. Unable to find a legal billing system with the clear, streamlined process they sought, the two decided to create their own.
The result, Viewabill, a comprehensive billing transparency software, seems to fill a critical need as attorney-client relationships grow increasingly fraught - some dissolving amid claims of overbilling or even escalating to scandal. Former Kirkland & Ellis litigator Steven J. Harper, author of The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis
, notes that many companies have resorted to hiring outside auditors to review their legal bills. Harper, now an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, also says the lawyers of the future who attend his classes won't stand for the billing status quo.
Based in the cloud, Viewabill lets clients track their lawyers' work on specific matters in real time - viewing raw log entries as they are made. Clients can tell what they owe at any juncture and call a halt with the software's "pencils down" function. The platform's online dashboard also lets clients monitor bills pending from a variety of other vendors, including accountants. No Surprises Software, cofounded by Friedman and David Schottenstein, launched Viewabill in March, with Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz as an adviser.
D. Casey Flaherty, corporate counsel at Kia Motors America in Irvine, expects the platform to save his company money and "lead to more ethical and righteous outcomes." Flaherty says he's "attracted to not being surprised," and to staying abreast. He remembers, from his law firm days, "how quiet my office used to get on the last day of the month when everyone needed to close out their time. People were feverishly going through emails attempting to reconstruct their days and allocate time to their various matters."
Dan Grunfeld, a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and leader of its West Coast litigation practice, says inscrutable law firm invoices can frustrate clients. "[Their] demand is manifesting in a greater array of tools and technology to help ensure time and money are not wasted." Familiar with the Viewabill model but not a user, he says "some [attorneys] find it a valuable internal tool; others find it more objectionable. But everyone agrees that [platforms] of its ilk are here to stay."