One vendor uses this language in its bills, another uses some other language. Yet another offers a billing summary first, and this one buries everything in the details. Happy invoices are all alike — it’s called the “Legal Electronic Data Exchange Standard” — and every unhappy invoice is unhappy in its own way…
But always unhappy in PDF.
PDF remains the preferred billing format for security purposes, but it also means that vendors can draw up their own bill design and prevent it from easy scanning. Some poor member of the in-house legal or finance team is going to have to wade through all these bespoke PDF bills to find out what the company is actually paying and then beg finance to release the funds. In recent years, some companies have cracked down on billing formats and imposed onerous guidelines that leave law firms trying to navigate competing billing guidelines to comply with client demands. That’s inefficient.
But tools exist that could save vendors from rewriting every bill and companies from having to waste hours digging through a hodge-podge of formats.
In a world of AI bots capable drawing Mario and Luigi on trial for war crimes, a product called “PDF Check” may not sound all that exciting. Though this new offering from legal operations platform Brightflag offers a path to finally resolve the tug of war between vendors and customers.
“PDF Check leverages Brightflag’s patented AI engine to scan PDF invoices automatically and validate that important details such as the bill-to entity, matter reference, and purchase order numbers are correct,” according to the company’s press release. A smart enough bot can wade through any zany billing format and pull out the right information, making the appropriate judgment calls between vendors expressing their own individuality in naming a “purchase order number” the “cherished customer event ID” or something. The hope is to free “in-house teams and their colleagues in finance to focus on higher value tasks and putting an end to mistakes from manual data verification.”
“Brightflag remains laser-focused on solving important problems for legal teams and their partners in finance,” said Ian Nolan, Brightflag CEO & co-founder. “In our current economic climate, where legal teams are once again asked to do more with less, productivity-enhancing features that automate repeatable processes ensure the legal team can make the most of their stretched resources.”
In some ways, this feature marks the final capitulation that PDF is here to stay. Companies keep trying to convert legal billing over to LEDES, but much like “fetch” it’s never going to happen. There are too many actors out there with personal — or, in some cases, legal — reasons to stay committed to PDF. If a standardized model isn’t on the horizon, then build tools that handle chaos.
PDF Check is a powerful extension to Brightflag’s industry-leading platform for matter and legal spend management. Brightflag’s patented AI engine can now not only extract important data from PDF and LEDES invoices, but also validate that data, apply billing guidelines, and generate analytics to help in-house teams make informed decisions.
The biggest challenge in legal technology this year will be generating buzz for practical, rubber-meeting-road solutions to productivity problems in a world where search engines will drown out anything that isn’t promising robot lawyers by tomorrow. But these focused applications of AI are actually a lot more impressive than sci-fi musing. Saving a minute or two on every bill that comes through the door without forcing vendors to reinvent the billing process will save millions of hours over time.
But… fine… I’ll put the word “ChatGPT” in here so maybe Google will pick up this story.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.