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December 1, 2010 6:04 PM

Buchanan Ingersoll's Lawyers Know When the Check is in the Mail

Posted by Brian Baxter

The annals of Am Law 200 firm finance have shown us successes with those that have adopted contingency fees, fixed fees, flat fees, and other alternative billing methods to preserve the bottom line.

But Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney believes its found an even better way to keep its billing house in order. The firm is using cutting-edge technology to display graphics on the computer screen of each of its 423 lawyers to show them how fast their clients are paying their legal bills, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

James O’Toole, Jr., an environmental litigator in the Philadelphia office of the Pittsburgh-based firm and a member of its management team, told the Inquirer that Buchanan Ingersoll was searching for a way to refine its automated billing system so that the rank-and-file attorneys could grasp the everyday necessity of prompt payment.

"Lawyers are best at practicing law," O'Toole told the Inquirer. "The challenge was to provide them with current information that could help them better manage their practice and help us manage our firm."

The increased focus on collections picked up two years ago when the economy tanked and clients started balking at higher hourly rates, the Inquirer reports. Most of Buchanan Ingersoll's collections data was kept on spread sheets, and non-lawyer collectors were tasked with chasing down any delinquent payments. Relationship partners with frequent client contact had a tough time navigating the cumbersome system, the paper reports.

So O'Toole, who holds an MBA from Drexel University in addition to his law degree from Temple University, set about crafting a new system along with his management colleagues at Buchanan Ingersoll.

Now, the new software allows attorneys, first thing in the morning as they sit down at their desks, to see how their collections are going. Brightly colored bar graphs and pie charts come up on computer screens as soon as the lawyers log on, according to the Inquirer. And there are performance tallies for each of Buchanan Ingersoll's offices as well as a running count of how close the firm is to meeting its collections goal.

Lawyers that fall more than 90 days behind on collections can expect to hear from the firm's collection committee, the Inquirer reports. The database created by the new software system has also allowed Buchanan Ingersoll to develop new alternative billing arrangements for clients that request to be removed from the billable hour.

According to the latest Am Law 200 financial data, Buchanan Ingersoll had gross revenues of $265 million in 2009 with profits per partner at $590,000.

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