Volume 20, Number 4
June 2003


MAC USER

Alternatives to Timeslips Billing Software

By Victoria L. Herring

Victoria L. Herring practices in Des Moines, Iowa, in an office that has used only Apple/Macs since the early 1980s. She can be reached at victoria@herringlaw.com.

As I moved to Apple's new operating system, OS X (and upgrades such as Jaguar OS X.2), I continued to use various applications in the pre-OS X "Classic" mode, those that weren't "ready for prime time." To do this I start up Mac's Classic OS as a window inside OS X. That was fine for a while, but I really love OS X and have worked steadily chipping away at my reliance on the Classic Mac OS. I have quite a variety of programs on my Mac and almost all of them work in OS X or OS X.2, without the need to use Classic. One important program, however, which I use daily as an integral part of my law office, is Timeslips (TS). As Mac TS users will recall, last fall the official word was sent forth that TS would not be updated to an OS X application. Fortunately the program runs just fine on pre-OS X Apples in the Classic window, but should Classic become obsolete, TS and its data will be useless.

For those of us who bill our time and expenses as precisely as possible and rely on the excellent data retention and invoicing functions in TS, this possibility poses quite a problem: Why continue to use it if it will not be supported or updated to an OS X version? So last fall I started searching for applications that might replace the venerable TS for Mac, pre-OS X. By studying the information provided by Randy Singer in his website (www.macattorney.com) and mailings and by dialoguing with other members of the MacLaw listserv (www.MacLaw.org), I found and downloaded many demo OS X time and billing applications. Here are my findings.

Our method of inquiry was rather simple but applicable (I thought) to most attorneys in a solo practice. I downloaded the demos and saved them to a folder on my 800 MHz iMac, running OS X.2. I enlisted the assistance of my paralegal, Misty Boles, for reviews because I knew if she met with obstacles in running, configuring, and using the various programs, other paralegals and lawyers would as well.

Next I developed a list of features that were a priority for us: (1) a timing (stopwatch) feature with more than one slip running or open; (2) capacity to invoice and send bills (as well as redesign or change the format of the invoices); (3) ability to input relevant data about the client, including a billing rate; (4) capacity to show detailed explanations of the work rather than brief summaries or names; (5) ability to label automatic entries with abbreviations; (6) capacity to bill both time and expenses; (7) ability to recognize payments and allow deductions from previous balances; (8) ability to export data from the program; (9) ability to track trust account balances; and (10) use of a FileMaker Pro template (which allows for cross-platform use as well as "customizing" for individual needs). All programs discussed below are available in demo versions at the websites noted.

Best of the Best
Customer Tracker 2.7.2 (www.10end.com/customer tracker) is one of the best for meeting the above ten specs. It allows multiple entry windows, invoicing from within the program by printing or e-mail, and three invoice designs (which cannot be changed). It can export data, work with FileMaker Pro, gather relevant client data, and allow detailed explanations of work and creation of a "frequent job" list. If that's not enough, it can bill expenses as well as time, recognize payments, and deduct them from a previous running balance. The program also allows you to print a number of different types of reports, including accounts receivable and account history. CustomerTracker basically allows one to do almost everything that TS does.

TimeCache 5.1.1 (www.pandaware.com/timecache/features.html) is a new version of a program I tested last fall. Reports or invoices are done by exporting the data to a FileMaker Pro template that is easily customized. A step-by-step tutorial helps you or your staff get started on the program. It allows multiple timers without turning off the active ones and starting the new slip, as well as various reports and multiple clients and categories.

Rest of the Best
Another excellent option is to use FileMaker Pro and a billing template to do all the time- and expense-keeping aspects of the law practice and invoicing as well. One great benefit is that FileMaker Pro is an ex-cellent relational database that is cross-platform, so the template can be used by lawyers on any type of machine.

Time Shark 4.1.2: (www.timeshark.com). This version, which uses a FileMaker Pro template, works fine with OS9 (Classic); the most recent version, 5.0 for OS X, wasn't available for demo but may be by the time you read this.

7 Office Mac OS X: (www.7office.com). This program features an integrated set of FileMaker Pro databases that include a lot of standard law office entries (time records, office management, calendaring). The developer also indicates a willingness to customize the product to clients' needs.

Imperfect
These programs either did not do as much as the ones above or are not yet OS X-native, although plans are afoot to make them so (consult the websites noted for current information).

Time Track Carbon v.1.2: www.trinfinitysoftware.com/timetrack.shtml
Time Slice 2.5: www.casadyg.com/products/timeslice/mac
At Work 3.0.2 and (better version) iWork: www.iggsoftware.com
Project Timer 1.4.1: www.scriptsoftware.com/projecttimer
Time Equals Money: 2.2 www.stone.com/TimeEqualsMoney
Time Tool 2.01: http://home.cfl.rr.com/computingedge/timetracker
Small Business Tracker Deluxe: www.productivity software.com/sbtracker
Brief EnCounter: www.brieflegal.com

Made Us Tired
MYOB v.3: www.myob.com. Features an overwhelming array of tasks that take quite a while to figure out
Deskspace v.3.2: www.deskspace.com. Too much detail and very confusing.

This article is not an exhaustive review of time and billing programs for OS X. But I hope it gets across the idea that there exist a wide variety of software programs and templates, from limited and simple to exotic and extensive. You should also check similar software at www.versiontracker.com or the Apple business software site, http://guide.apple.com/uscategories/business.lasso. If you want detailed comparisons or exhaustive reviews, look in Mac publications or websites, or check the two sites indicated above. There are quite a few options available, and I hope this article will only whet your appetite for further research.


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