LTRC Roundtable Discussion: Technology for Billing and Accounting.

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Technology is forever changing. This month we asked our panel about the evolving landscape of Technology for Billing and Accounting.

Our Panelists:

William Goren (WG),  Sofia Lingos (SL), Dave Christensen (DC) and Allison Shields Johs (ASJ).

What advice do you have for choosing billing and accounting technology for your firm? (software, apps, timekeeping technology, etc.)

WG: Know what you need whether it be time management, trust fund management, billing, document storage, accessibility for persons with disabilities, etc.

SL: Look for as many integrations as possible.  Whenever you can have numbers that carryover you minimize risk by eliminating mistaken entry.  It is also valuable to choose tools that were specifically built as legal tech.  For example, M&TBank has a new product NOTA which has integrated IOLTA accounting on your bank statement.

DC: Choosing the appropriate financial accounting system is a very important process law firms must undertake for a number of reasons.  The system chosen oftentimes depends on how large the IT budget is, and may also run in tandem with other initiatives, such as conflict or docketing systems.   Our firm chose an ‘all-in-one’ system for Docketing, Timekeeping and Billing and Accounting several years ago.  I am not a big fan of having separate systems that must synch together, as extra work is involved to ensure the data reconciles within each system, among other ongoing troubleshooting issues that occur.  I also prefer real-time data for analytical purposes; other add-on systems are usually refreshed nightly in off-hours.  I have not found one system out there that is 100% in accommodating the needs of various stakeholders, there are always pros and cons and ‘gotchas’.  The best advice I can give is to look for 1. Ease of use, 2.  Flexibility and customization of screens and reports, 3.  Ability to extract data, 4. Reduced numbers of clicks to achieve tasks, and 5. Timeliness and accessibility of the vendor and their ability to timely solve issues.

ASJ: Make a list of the features and reports that you need before looking at individual programs so you can check their capabilities against what you need. For example, can the technology accommodate the way you charge your fees? Can it handle all of the different ways that you accept payments from clients? Then check the technology’s features against your list.

Make sure the technology is compatible with any other programs or technology that you are already using within your firm, such as your practice management software.

See if you can test-drive the tech with some real info, the way you would use it once it is installed in your office. Is it intuitive and easy to use? Think about who will be using the technology in the office and how they will be using it. If possible, have them test-drive the software as well (at least one representative from each different role, such as your bookkeeper, secretary, an attorney, etc).

What do you wish you would have known or asked before you implemented your current billing or accounting technology?

SL: I wish I’d known to integrate them from the beginning (the option did not exist at the time).  Trying to connect Clio to QuickBooks after the fact was certainly more complex than if it had been done from the beginning.  Thankfully I found an amazing accountant Gale Kirsopp of the 4700Group to set-up the integration.

DC: Inquiring whether you can run the reports you need within the software, or does it require a third-party software (like Excel) to manipulate the data and give you the answers that are needed for business operations.

What technology do you use for billing and accounting in your law firm? Would you purchase it again? Why or why not?

WG: I myslef currently use Clio.

SL: I use Clio Manage for timekeeping and billing, integrated with Quickbooks.  I have all of my bank and credit card statements fed directly into QuickBooks.  Quickbooks also receives billing and payment information from Clio so I am able to run all of my reports with ease.  I use LawPay for credit card processing which is also integrated with Clio so when I request retainers or send invoices they are transmitted directly through Clio and when payment is made it automatically shows up in their ledger.  I would absolutely recommend this set-up for ease, professionalism and accuracy.

DC: Our firm is currently using a European system by the name of Inprotech, and it is an all-in-one system.  During the demo and selection process we were assured the system was equipped to handle a business whose books are kept on a cash basis.  What we did not know was that they actually had to build that in, as their system was only built for accrual-based firms.  We had a myriad of issues relating to this, including having to amend tax returns because of bad reconciliation data.  Our only means of support for this was based out of Australia so we never had same day resolution to sometimes critical processes.  It took about 18 months after conversion until all the kinks were ironed out.  Since that time, the system has proven to be reliable and we are reasonably happy with it.  I say reasonably because again, it isn’t perfect, there are many clicks to process transactions, also the data is housed all over the place so there is a lot of hunting and pecking to get at what you need.

ASJ: I am not currently practicing law, but I use Freshbooks for my invoicing and basic accounting for my consulting practice, and it might be an option for solos or small firms, especially if they’re just starting out. I like it because I never have to touch (or see) a client’s credit card information, and clients can easily pay me by electronic transfer or using a credit card. It gives me all of the reports I need to see, and notifies me if a client is late in paying or hasn’t viewed an invoice. I can set up automatic payment reminders, and the dashboard is an easy way for me to see exactly what’s happening with all of my invoices. It integrates with a lot of other popular apps as well.

What is the best feature of the billing or accounting technology you are currently using?

WG: Voice dictation accessibility.  The Trust fund management is a breeze as well as the easy electronic payment option for clients.

SL: Clio allows its users to request retainers and send bills to clients and receive payment directly.  The streamlined system makes the payment process straightforward for the law firm and client.

DC: The best feature of our system is the ability to extract any data point out of it for analytical and reporting purposes.  We also have great customer service, even with the time difference between the US and Australia!

ASJ: The best feature of Freshbooks right now is their mobile app, which lets me stay on top of client invoices and payments no matter where I am.

What feature do you wish was included in your billing or accounting technology, but that isn’t currently available?

SL: Tracking time is my least favorite part of practicing law.  I wish Clio had an integrated passive timekeeping option.  However, you can independently purchase Chrometa which has an auto export to Clio.

DC: One feature that is not resident in our current system is the ability to easily send pre-bills for attorney review (electronically) with the attorney having the ability to make on-line corrections, notes, etc… on the prebills so they are returned in a draft mode for our billing department to ensure proposed changes are allowed per company policy or  client specifications prior to finalizing and sending to clients.  Along this line is the ability to send the invoices out to clients in a queue or by some other means to save the time of having to send them individually through Outlook.   It is for this reason (and a few others) that when the time comes to explore new systems, we will be receptive (and a little wiser) to exploring other systems with enhanced technology.

ASJ: I still receive a lot of payments by check from clients. I wish that Freshbooks had the ability to take a photo of the check to apply it to the invoice, record the amount, check number and date of payment automatically so that I wouldn’t have to manually enter that information into the system.