Time, as they say, is what keeps everything from happening at once. In a busy law firm, however, with hectic schedules, phone conferences, and meetings with clients, frequently everything does seem to happen at once.
Keeping track and recording all that billable time, especially after the fact, brings to mind another saying: time is money. A law firm with attorneys, paralegals, and administrative support staff might even spend too much time (and money) filling out billable time sheets and sending paper records to accounting. That’s where time and billing software can help.
What is legal time tracking and billing software, anyway?
Legal billing software is a type of legal technology that enables lawyers and law firms to reduce non-billable hours, track consulting time, and receive payment for their services. The software offers capabilities like time tracking, invoicing, and accounting, and provides the most value when packaged as part of a comprehensive and purpose-built legal practice management system.
11 must-have features of automated time, billing, and accounting software for law firms
There are many choices out there, and it’s a matter of matching the software’s functionality and features of the product with the needs of your law firm. Below are the “ideal 11” features you should look for when shopping for legal practice management software that includes time tracking, billing, and accounting software for lawyers:
- Time entry flexibility for simple time card and timer options; ability to use multiple timers simultaneously.
- Scalability to easily add and delete users as needed.
- Mobile access from devices such as smartphones or tablets.
- Fee allocation defined at the client level with the ability to generate reports based on billable time and payments received.
- Automated invoice creation and the ability to distribute invoices electronically.
- LEDES format compliance.
- Billing flexibility to accommodate a variety of billing arrangements to meet every client’s needs–including hourly, flat-fee, retainer, contingency, recurring and split fees; also, the ability to record expenses in multiple currencies.
- Robust accounting functionality built into the platform.
- Automation for monthly, quarterly, and yearly client billing. Should also include automatic monitoring and reminders to timekeepers to update missing time.
- Management of client trust account/retainer accounts.
- Data analytics and reporting features that track productivity and profitability.
Chaos costs money
So, time tracking and billing software for lawyers do a lot. What it does best, however, is meet the challenges in overcoming Murphy’s Law, which says if something can go wrong, it usually will, for example:
- Your paralegal spent an hour last Tuesday with client X. Or was it client Y? Their cases are similar, but she lost her telephone notes. It’s Friday, so she’ll wing it and go with Client X.
- One of your firm’s senior partners hates record keeping with the white-hot heat of a thousand suns. Her assistant should have gone to dental school because convincing her to get a timesheet on time is like pulling teeth.
- You have this thrifty client from Missouri, who personally checks the bills you send him. He uses a vicious-looking purple marking pen. When he has a question on a billing, he circles it and says “Show me!”
So, applying Murphy’s Law principles, when you mix faulty memory with procrastination and add a drop of “too busy to do that now,” you have the very best reasons for launching automated time and billing software. Otherwise, the ultimate consequence is that muddling through notes and post-its will have to remain standard operating procedure when you know your law firm can do better.
How to bill time in a law firm — the least stressful way
Ask any law office administrator what is the easiest path to solving how to bill time in a law firm and you’ll get a variety of approaches.
Some may threaten to rat out the delinquent person to senior management (unless the person is actually senior management). Others drop reminders at staff meetings, practice public shaming, put post-it notes in the lunchroom, or even add “don’t forget to turn in your timesheet!” as part of their messaging signatures.
So, anyone who has ever worked in a job that depends on others to do things where those “others” don’t receive immediate positive reinforcement knows what must happen: You have to make it easier for them to do what you want them to do. The effort they expend doing that has to be easier than what they would rather do (or not do).
Everyone wants to get their billable hours report completed. They know how important that is. However, it’s a pain that brings on another p-word: procrastination. Your paralegal was too busy to keep an accurate record. The senior law partner is much too intimidating to pressure. Finally, rather than hassling with your client from Missouri, you simply write off the hours he circles in purple.
The solution? Automating manual time and billing processes by leveraging legal practice management software.
Your lucky 7 solutions
Below are 7 things you can do with the help of automated time and billing software for attorneys to get the law office team to do what you want them to do.
1. Put away the pen and paper and ditch arduous manual time tracking.
Your attorney, who bills out at about $300 per hour, could work on 10 separate clients throughout the day. Without the help of simple billing software, she tracks her time manually by religiously recording the start and end times for every task and scribbling a cryptic description of the work completed.
Say each time-tracking manual record eats up around three minutes. Those 10 records cost about 30 minutes (or $150) each day. Extend the calculation to its final yearly cost and you’re looking at about $39,000 for the year for a single attorney.
So, it’s easy to see how just spending seconds with simple time tracking software can be the “le roi du ROI.” (That’s sort of French for “the King of ROI—Return on Investment.”)
2. Start billing efficiently and generate invoices the easy way.
Automation is the silver bullet in overcoming the evil twins of inefficiency and drudgery. Inefficiency is what causes inaccurate billing. Drudgery is in the time manual billing takes while the staff flips a coin to see who is going to ask the senior partner to turn in his time sheet.
Then there is the process of organizing all the data by client code and shoe-horning it into a likewise inefficient billing system that resembles the spreadsheet from hell.
3. Abandon manual time tracking and watch the A-word emerge.
That’s A for “accuracy.” Manual tracking is the root of frequent inaccurate records and mistakes. You’re working on Client X and get interrupted by Client Y. Should you stop everything and record a new begin/end time and wait until later to write up a summary? You probably won’t bother. It’s just too much trouble. You have just cost the firm billable minutes.
On the other hand, simple legal billing software with a comprehensive time tracking program allows you to quickly migrate between matters. Just dial up the client ID and begin multitasking on the fly. The software will do the rest.
4. Leverage accurate tracking for accurate billing.
The beauty of simple legal billing software is its computer-assisted accuracy. Accurate billing based on accurate tracking is the double-A standard that keeps clients satisfied and confident that they are getting what they are paying for.
5. Throw away the pen and paper and start using your portable devices.
It’s all about convenience. The office desktop is rapidly giving way to powerful laptops that do everything but are portable. Then there are those smartphones that connect via Wi-Fi and allow your attorneys’ instant connection to your network through mobile apps.
So, lawyers don’t need the four walls of the office to do their work. They can easily sync their devices with the office network and send their billable hours records on their journey to fast invoice billing and quick online payments.
6. Get a real handle on budgeting and team accountability.
The aforementioned convenience of time and billing software for attorneys promotes easier budgeting and better accountability for your law firm team. Teams of lawyers can track their time on complex cases or issues. Your paralegal and anyone else assigned can record and sync all that tracking.
The input is then pooled and synched under a relevant case or client identifier. Add the task descriptions to the aggregated data, and the firm budgeters and administrators have the big picture for accountability and proper future budgeting.
7. Break your addiction to paper for better security.
Paper is not secure. It is a fragile medium and can be burned or mutilated, taking vital information with it or falling into the wrong hands. Digitize those records with simple legal billing software and let managed cloud hosting do the rest.