Because of the potential to “game” the system, bills from law firms that use “pre-bill consultants” undergo more scrutiny.
Two years ago I wrote a post about a new niche business service for attorneys, “pre-bill consultants.” As I wrote, pre-bill consultants are used by attorneys to scrutinize their legal bills before they are sent to insurers and other clients to ensure that the legal bills comply with client guidelines and are otherwise accurate. The hoped for result is less deductions in legal bills due to billing “errors.”
Ostensibly, it looked like a win-win situation to me and I wrote favorably about pre-bill consultants. But in a recent conversation with an in-house legal bill unit manager, I heard a different story. The manager pointed out to me something that I already knew: e-billing systems can be “gamed.” And he believed that some pre-bill consultants are gaming the system.
According to the manager, their internal review process discovered that a firm that previously had large billing error rates suddenly had dramatically smaller billing error rates. But upon close scrutiny, the manager said that they found out the firm had not at all changed what they were doing, but rather they had changed their billing descriptions. For example, the same non-billable clerical tasks that were being performed by paralegals were just being re-written to make them appear to be billable paralegal tasks to their e-billing program.
The company learned that the law firm had been using a pre-bill consultant to review and alter their bills before being sent to the company. Thus it was that the firm had not changed the way it performed certain types of tasks. It just changed the way it described the tasks enough to avoid flagging by their e-billing program. Because of this, the manager said they now are subjecting all of the law firm’s bills to manual scrutiny by their more senior bill reviewers.
In reflecting upon the manager’s comments, I do accept the possibility that some pre-bill consultants can help attorneys “fly under the radar” or “game” the system (both e-billing as well as manual review systems). And because some pre-bill consultants are also former employees of e-billing companies, they would have special knowledge on how to change billing entry wording to make them avoid detection by an e-billing program.
In the final analysis, though, I still believe that pre-bill consultants can play a valuable role for both law firms and insurers in helping to eliminate needless billing errors that cost both law firms and insurers money to handle. But I would be naive if I did not recognize that there is also a real potential for some pre-bill consultants to “game” the system.
Because of a potential for law firms to use pre-bill consultants to help them “fly under the radar,” I would recommend that bills of firms that use pre-bill consultants be subjected to a greater degree of manual bill review. This greater degree of scrutiny preferably should be done by more experienced legal bill auditors who are better able to parse out clever wording in legal bill entries that may be used more to deceive than to inform. For insurers who do not do follow these recommendations, they may risk being “gamed” and may end up on the wrong end of a win-lose situation.