Spring 2016

Robbie Friedman, ’08: Innovations in Law Firm Billing

By Lori Atherton

Robbie Friedman, ’08
Robbie Friedman, ’08

As a corporate attorney, Robbie Friedman, ’08, was familiar with what he describes as the “opaqueness” of legal billing. So when he started his own law firm, Friedman began sending daily status emails to clients in an effort to provide transparency about the work he was invoicing.

The frequent communications proved to be a hit with clients and became the genesis for Viewabill, a startup Friedman cofounded in Columbus, Ohio, in 2013. A cloud-based platform, Viewabill allows clients to see in real time how much a law firm is billing for its work.

“What Viewabill does is expose the work-in-progress activity to everyone in the firm and to the client,” says Friedman, a former associate at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP in New York City. “It’s like logging in to your banking website and seeing pending charges.”

Clients can log on to Viewabill at any time to see billable activity as it progresses, which helps them better manage their budgets and prevents surprises when the actual bill arrives. Clients who are close to going over budget, for example, will know that is the case immediately thanks to budget notifications. 

Then they can determine next steps, such as allocating more money toward legal expenses or pulling back on the legal services that they initially requested. Clients also can request clarification about time entries, warding off the potential for problems or miscommunication to arise. This transparency, Friedman notes, results in greater trust by both parties.

“Viewabill provides peace of mind to law firms and their clients that billing won’t be an issue,” he says, “because firms are able to focus on the work as opposed to the underlying tension of how much the work is going to cost.”

When Friedman initially approached law firms three years ago, many weren’t receptive to an idea that sought to bring clarity to the traditional billable-hour model. So Friedman took Viewabill to corporate legal departments, which leveraged their firms to give it a try. Now, about 140 law firms are using Viewabill, Friedman notes.

“Initially a lot of firms thought that clients were going to use Viewabill to trap them somehow, but that hasn’t been the case,” he says. “What we’ve found is that clients are investing in transparency with the firms they want to have long-term relationships with, as opposed to the firms they want to have short-term relationships with or are unhappy with. It has created a much more collaborative environment between clients and attorneys.”