Billing is the heart of the business side of the practice of law. No matter how well you practice law, if you do not bill and collect for your services, you will soon find that your business has failed. This month we have some additional suggestions to help you select and implement a billing system. (For our introduction to the topic, click here.) Whether you plan to open your practice next month or have an established practice, you want a billing system that optimizes your ability to collect for your efforts.
Tip 1: Reach for the Clouds!
We have had cloud-based billing systems available for some time now. Many of them have evolved into efficient means of recording time and generating bills for your practice. We recommend that you use a cloud-based system for several reasons—in particular, the ability to access them from anywhere you have an Internet connection.
We prefer the cloud-based systems because they enable you to bill from wherever you happen to find yourself. A good cloud-based system saves you the time of recording the information on a note somewhere in or out of your computer and then re-entering it when you get back to the office. In the best of all worlds the system will have an app that works with your smartphone so that you do not need to connect through a browser (which may not have optimization for use on a smartphone). Additionally, a cloud-based system should allow you to generate the billing from anywhere in the world that you have an Internet connection. We like to get bills out by the tenth of the month at the latest, and being on vacation is not an excuse for getting them out late. As a result, we have been known to generate bills from locations throughout North America, South America, and Europe (we plan to expand that list over time).
Note: In looking at a cloud-based system, make sure that your provider will safely and securely encrypt and store your information as well as back it up for you. Check out the backup arrangements, and make sure that you find them secure and functional. Also make sure that they comply with the requirements of the state bar for every state in which you hold a license.
Tip 2: Keep It Simple!
You want to find a system that makes it easy to record time and expenses. The more easily and quickly you can record information, the greater the likelihood that you will do so concurrently with your work. The more quickly and easily you can generate bills, the more likely you will get them out regularly and in a timely manner.
Tip 3: Check Out Its Features
You want to find a system that does what you need it to do and does so in a way that makes your professional life (and that of your staff) easier, not more difficult. Your billing system should allow you to easily record time, record expenses, generate bills, and record receipts. Ideally, it will also integrate with whatever accounting system you or your accountant chose for your firm. If it does, you save the hassle of having to enter some information into two different systems separately. The system should allow entry from all billing personnel and should make it easy for you to generate bills to send out to clients. If the billing system you like best does not integrate with your accounting system, that does not mean you should necessarily reject it. Rather, you should weigh the amount of work necessary to handle the additional entries against how much you prefer that system to one you may not like as much but that interfaces well with your accounting system. Your favored system may well prevail despite that deficiency. We have seen some systems that provide full accounting functions and also include a billing module. You may find one that works optimally for you. In reviewing the system, make sure that it will properly handle IOLTA accounts and comply with whatever rules each state in which you have a license requires (remember that if you have more than one license to practice law, you need to keep in compliance with the rules of every state in which you have a license).
Tip 4: Protect Your Information
Make sure that you secure access to your information by using a strong password and requiring that everyone in your office that gets access to the system uses a strong password. Also make sur that you secure the access to your devices that will access the system (computers, tablets, smartphones) with good, strong passwords. Make sure that all passwords for devices and access get stored securely by everyone in your office to minimize the risk that someone can get access to your information and your clients’ data. You have an ethical obligation to protect the confidentiality of your clients’ information.
Tip 5: Use It Properly
Starting up with a new billing system can prove frustrating and traumatic. But it does not have to create that reaction. You can minimize the frustration and trauma through good planning for implementation and by giving yourself and your team the opportunity to test out and learn the new system before you implement it as the billing system for your office. Once you have worked with it and feel comfortable with it, the conversion happens more smoothly and easily. One final comment: Studies have shown time and again that the failure to record your time concurrently with the work results in lost time. If you bill for your time on an hourly basis, the failure to record your time converts to lost billings and lost receipts. We prefer a cloud-based system as it promotes concurrent billing by making it easy to access the system anywhere you have a connection to one of your Internet-accessing devices.