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Houston-based DataCert Inc., a privately owned provider of e-billing and other e-legal services, is on a roll. Having experienced a 227 percent growth in sales from its formation in 1998 to 2000, it was rated in the fall of 2001 the 37th company of “The Houston 100,” which profiles Houston’s fastest-growing businesses based on net sales over a three-year period. It also made Computerworld magazine’s “Top 100 Emerging Companies to Watch” in 2001. To date, 21 Fortune 200 companies subscribe to DataCert’s services, including Compaq, The Home Depot, UPS and Waste Management. In addition, more than 1,900 firms subscribe, including 72 percent of the country’s 200 top-grossing firms. The company, which employs 53, offers a suite of products primarily designed to automate the bill-tracking process for corporate legal departments and firms. It does this in several ways: by translating electronic-billing information from multiple firm billing systems into a simpler, single format; by tracking legal expenses with a secure, Web-based, fully automated invoice management and workflow tool that provides online review, adjustment and approval of electronic invoices; and by minimizing the headache of processing invoices the old-fashioned way, enabling companies and firms to reduce the number of clerical employees needed to perform accounting chores. In August 2001, DataCert acquired Houston-based DigiContract, which lets multiple users share, review and edit the same documents online using digital signatures and encryption without modifying the firms’ systems. This has multiple applications for firms and corporate legal departments, from pleadings and depositions to billing data. Given DataCert’s rapid growth and legally intensive nature, DataCert founder and CEO Eric Elfman recently described his company’s legal needs and information about the corporate legal department with Texas Lawyer reporter Erica Lehrer Goldman. Texas Lawyer : What did you look for when hiring a general counsel? Elfman: DataCert’s situation is somewhat unusual in that we “acquired” our acting general counsel, Mark Poag, through a company we purchased. Last August, DataCert acquired DigiContract Inc., a provider of a collaborative workflow technology for negotiating multiparty documents online. Currently, Poag is the acting general counsel of DataCert and also provides product management for DocRoom, the rebranded version of DigiContract’s core product. Previously, Poag practiced transactional law at Bracewell & Patterson, a firm based in Houston. Texas Lawyer : How much autonomy does your GC have? Elfman: Poag’s autonomy here at DataCert is reflective of his diverse business-related experiences as a CEO, entrepreneur and lawyer. For starters, he handles all of our client negotiations and drafts our service and license agreements. He also is responsible for managing our employment-related issues and drafting financial documents related to potential company investments and venture capital funding. Texas Lawyer : Describe the role the GC plays in key business decisions. Elfman: Poag is a prominent decision maker on key business issues related to potential acquisitions, financial structuring and future investments. His expertise in transactional law and his experiences representing lenders, borrowers, buyers and sellers in a variety of commercial oil and gas, power and real estate transactions nationwide make him an influential member of the DataCert team as well as an ideal choice for our legal needs. Texas Lawyer : Is he a member of the board? Elfman: Poag serves as the corporate secretary on our board of directors. Texas Lawyer : What is your weekly interaction with the legal department, on average? Elfman: Because DataCert is a relatively small, high-growth company, issues arise and events occur every day that can have a significant impact on the future of DataCert. As a result, I spend a significant amount of time nearly every day consulting with Poag on these and other issues. Texas Lawyer : How large of a legal staff does DataCert have? Elfman: Currently, we employ two other attorneys at DataCert, but Poag is the sole practicing member of the legal staff. Texas Lawyer : Are you an attorney? Elfman: I am not an attorney myself, so I rely heavily on Poag’s legal expertise. Texas Lawyer : What has been the company’s greatest legal challenge in the past three years? Elfman: The No. 1 legal challenge we’ve faced in the past three years has been trying to maintain the overall integrity of our service agreements and license agreements. In our industry, we are constantly negotiating contracts between some of the largest Fortune 500 companies. For the first few years of DataCert’s existence, it was difficult for us to communicate terms in our agreements because our Fortune 500 clients had significant negotiating leverage over us. In the recent past, however, we’ve gained substantial market share and expanded so we can be even more aggressive during contract discussions.

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