Legal billing software can ensure you get paid, even in a pandemic
COVID-19 has been an unwelcome part of our reality for more than four months now. It has affected all aspects of our lives, from personal to professional. The impact on businesses, including law firms, has been dramatic. According to a June survey from MyCase, one of the biggest struggles lawyers have encountered due to the pandemic is maintaining financial stability.
The inability of many lawyers to maintain a stable income stream is undoubtedly due to a host of issues related to the pandemic, including court closures, financial difficulties faced by law firm clients and interrupted law firm workflows. Many of these factors are outside of your control, but not all of them are.
For example, one thing that you are uniquely able to control during this pandemic is the effectiveness and efficiency of your law firm’s remote work processes. If your firm is using cloud-based software to get work done, it’s much more likely that your team has been able to keep things running smoothly throughout the current crisis, no matter where it happens to be located at any given time. If, however, your firm has not yet transitioned to cloud-based law firm software, your remote working processes have probably not weathered the storm very well.
This inefficiency is likely most evident when it comes to your firm’s billing processes, since efficient and accurate legal billing is essential for law firms. After all, if you don’t invoice your clients, you won’t get paid. And if your firm’s billing software is premises-based, then the transition to remote working has undoubtedly been a challenging one for your firm. This is because remote access tools tend to be clunky and very unreliable, making it difficult, if not impossible, for your firm’s employees to effectively invoice clients.
That’s where cloud-based legal billing software comes in. As long as you have internet access, you’re able to log in and access the software and your firm’s data, no matter where you’re located. When your firm is in the cloud, working—and billing—remotely has never been easier.
When it comes to cloud-based legal billing software, you have two choices: You can use standalone versions or rely on the billing tools built into law practice management software. No matter which one you choose, it’s important to note that whenever you entrust your law firm’s data to a third party—as you do when you use an online word processor—you have an ethical obligation to thoroughly vet the technology provider that will be hosting and storing your data. This includes ensuring that you understand how the data will be handled by that company; where the servers on which the data will be stored are located; who will have access to the data; and how and when it will be backed up, among other things.
There are a number of issues to think about when considering these products for your firm. First, it’s important to ensure that the invoices created by the software are editable, easy to read and can be easily shared with your clients in an electronic format. That way you avoid the costly, inefficient and time-consuming process of creating, printing out and mailing paper bills.
Another important feature to look for is the ability to customize invoices by including your firm’s logo, contact information and more. Some systems will also allow you to include a payment link in the invoice so that your clients can immediately pay you electronically upon receipt of the invoice. This feature was discussed more fully in my May article on electronic payment processing options for law firms.
Cloud-based legal practice management software
When it comes to cloud-based legal practice management software, all the leading companies, including Clio, Rocket Matter and MyCase, have the ability to generate invoices from time entered using the software’s time-tracking tools. Most reputable providers also include trust accounting reconciliation features, along with options to incorporate your law firm’s general accounting information into your billing system. Of course, each program is unique and offers a different mix of features, so it’s very important to use the invoicing tools extensively during your free trial of the software.
Reconciling accounting data
One issue to keep in mind is that you have options when it comes to reconciling general accounting data. You can choose a law practice management system with those features built directly into the software, or alternatively, you should ensure that the software will integrate with the accounting tools your firm’s bookkeeper and/or accountant already use.
If software with full-fledged accounting features built into it is an important feature for your firm, then CosmoLex is your best bet. Alternatively, if your bookkeeper and/or accountant would prefer to use the accounting software that they are familiar with, such as QuickBooks, then make sure your software platform of choice integrates with that accounting software in a way that works well with your law firm’s workflow. That being said, it’s important to test-drive the software to ensure that it works the way you’d like it to, and that, if an accounting integration is involved, it transfers the necessary information between the programs in the manner that you would like it to.
And speaking of accounting tools, if you’re simply looking for a standalone cloud-based legal-specific tool for reconciling trust accounts, then <a href=”https://trustbooks.com/>Trustbooks might fit the bill. It offers a 14-day free trial and a DIY option for $39/month where you manage the trust account reporting to the Bar. There is also a Team option for $129/month, and as part of this subscription tier, the TrustBook team manages your firm’s trust account reconciliation.
Next, for firms that only need legal billing features, rather than a full-fledged practice management system, you have a number of cloud-based software tools to choose from. What follows is not all-inclusive, but features a number of different types of tools, one of which is sure to suit your needs. There are many different and varying features offered by the different programs, so make sure to review the specific features and test drive the software before locking your firm into a long-term contract.
A few of the most well-known and popular cloud-based billing software programs developed specifically for lawyers are TimeSolv, Time59 and Bill4Time. All three companies have increased their pricing since I last wrote about them in 2018, and they each offer free trials and include mobile and desktop time tracking and trust accounting features, LEDES invoicing and integrations with payment processing solutions.
Time59 now costs $199 a year for unlimited users and data. TimeSolv Legal now includes three pricing tiers based on firm size. For firms with 1) 1-4 users, the cost is $34.95/user/month or $31.46 annually per user/month; 2) for firms with 5-14 users, the cost is $29.95/user/month or $26.95 annually per user/month; and 3) for firms with 15 or more users, the cost is $24.95/user/month or $22.46 annually per user/month. Bill4Time has three pricing tiers, with more robust feature sets available as the pricing increases. The most basic feature set starts at $29 a month per user, costs $49/user/month for the middle tier and caps off at $89 per user per month for the most robust feature set at the enterprise level. The annual pricing plan starts at $27/user/month, costs $45/user/month for the middle tier and caps off at $80/user/month for the enterprise plan.
Finally there are a few legal billing software products that recently came onto my radar that were new to me and are worth sharing. The first provides no frills legal billing software, but with enough features to get the job done, depending on your firm’s needs.
Easy Legal Billing includes time-tracking, LEDES billing, and legal invoicing, but does not include payment processing. It offers a tiered pricing plan based one the number of invoices sent per month. Prices start at $29/month or $278/year for 10 invoices, but the invoices are not customizable and LEDES formatting is not included. For $49/month or $470/year, 30 invoices are included as is LEDES invoicing, but the invoices are not customizable. Finally for $99/month or $950/year, unlimited invoices are available along with LEDES invoicing and customization.
Then there’s Bilr, which includes traditional billing tools such as timekeeping and invoicing along with LEDES formatting and an online payment processing integration. But it also includes two features of note: voice-enabled time tracking and an AI-based feature that scans and analyzes invoices in order to ensure compliance with billing requirements. The cost starts at $29.50/user/month and decreases as you add more users, and there’s a 15% discount offered for annual billing.
Lastly, there’s LeanLaw, which customizes and integrates with Quickbooks Online to provide a legal billing platform. It includes timekeeping, invoicing, LEDES billing and accounting features. A free trial is available and there are two pricing tiers. The first is designed for small firms and costs $35/user/month or $30/user/month if billed annually. The second tier is for larger firms and includes advanced reporting and increased control over workflows, has a minimum requirement of 2 users and costs $50/user/month or $45/user/month if billed annually.
So no matter what your firm’s legal billing needs, there’s bound to be a tool available that will get the job done. Now that you know what some of your options are, the next step is to carefully research, review and test-drive a few programs. Then, choose the tool that best fits into your firm’s workflow.
In no time flat your law firm will be billing in the cloud and, most importantly, prepared for any eventuality. When remotely accessible, streamlined and efficient legal billing is available, no matter what situation your firm faces, you’re able to ensure that your firm gets paid regardless of what the future may bring.
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York, attorney, author, journalist and the legal technology evangelist at MyCase, legal practice management software for small firms. She is the nationally recognized author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers and is co-author of Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier, both published by the American Bar Association. She also is co-author of Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes regular columns for ABAJournal.com, Above the Law and the Daily Record, has authored hundreds of articles for other publications, and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law and emerging technologies. Follow her on Twitter @nikiblack, or she can be reached at [email protected].