Which Billing System Do You Use?
Some basic criteria for attorneys to use in evaluating all the available billing system options.
There are a wide variety of billing systems available for purchase, and for most of us it will be the most important software purchase we make. Rather than try to do a comprehensive evaluation of every such system, allow me to offer some basic criteria for you to use in evaluating all the available billing system options.
- Whether you handle your own billing or rely on a bookkeeper to send out invoices, it is crucial that you be able to run the system on your own. You never know when your staff may be out of the office for an extended period, and you want to be able to answer a client’s inquiry even when your staff is on vacation. For this reason, your first criteria for selecting a billing system is that it is simple enough for you to operate. If you feel intimidated by every billing system, I strongly encourage you to take a few classes or spend a few hours with a technical systems consultant, to gain the skills necessary to run the program on your own. You never want to have to tell a client you can’t give them an update on their bill while your bookkeeper is out for several weeks of medical leave.
- It’s obvious that you need to pick a system that is compatible with your existing computer system, but you should also be thinking about what your needs are likely to be in the future. I’m one of the rare lawyers who uses a Mac, so my options are limited, and indeed, I faced a serious set of hurdles when the main provider of billing systems for Macs (Timeslips) stopped supporting Apple products. Even if you don’t have certainty about your computer hardware for the distant future, you will want to try to select a system that is going to be available for your needs for at least a few more years to come.
- Make sure there are real human beings available for customer support, and whenever possible, make sure they are capable of explaining things to non-techies. I use a program (TimeNet) that is run by a small group of programmers in Oregon, and they actually answer their own phones and take the time to resolve the occasional problems that arise for me. Before I purchased it I gave them a call and asked a few preliminary questions, and this experience gave me the confidence that I could rely on them if a messy program arose in the future.
- Give some thought to whether you want to use a stand-alone billing system or one that integrates your calendaring and client management tasks. My office life these days is rather simple and I no longer handle litigation, so using a billing-only program works just fine for me. But if you have multiple associates and a large number of clients, and especially if you handle a lot of litigation matters, an integrated client management system probably is what you will need to acquire.
- Consult with other lawyers who work in similar fields and have similarly sized offices as yours, before you sink major time and money into a particular system. Each billing system has its own way of keeping track of information, offering different features and using different ways of collecting and storing the information. I highly encourage you to talk with several lawyers who have similarly-sized practices as yours, and who work in similar areas of the law, to learn what products to avoid and which to select.
- Find a local resource person who is familiar with the program you intend to select, and talk with that person before buying the system. Even if you select a product that has decent customer service, it may be necessary to bring in a local expert to train you and your staff on using the program—and that resource person will be the best one to help you figure out which system is best for your particular office set-up. I was doing fine on Timeslips for years, but when I upgraded my computer system a few years ago things got dicey. The afternoon I spent with a local Timeslips expert was of tremendous value, and enabled me to continue with this program for several more years.
Frederick Hertz, an attorney and mediator based in Oakland, has managed his practice for more than 25 years.
"The Art of Getting Paid" is a one-year series of blog posts that provides a comprehensive training to lawyers on how to get paid.
We welcome your questions and comments – and of course, your suggestions on how to master this insufficiently respected aspect of practicing law.