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Attorneys in larger firms don’t have to worry if the bills get out the door each month, if suppliers are paid on time, or if the general ledger is balanced. The administrator and “back office” staff take care of this. Not so for attorneys in small firms and solo practice. They get immersed in all sorts of accounting details that eat up billable hours and take away from building and running their practice. Unlike the Rolling Stones song, time is definitely not on their side. But here are three secrets that can help solo and small-firm practitioners get more bang for their buck from their billing and accounting software: 1. Allocate resources to learn the software. It takes time and money to learn how to use software, but it’s worth the investment. A billing system that is set up correctly and used by well-trained people results in a higher level of productivity and requires less support than one where the users try to run with the system “out of the box.” So make sure that people in the firm who have any interaction with the software are properly trained in how to use it. The features you use will dictate the amount of training you need. It may vary from a single hour to a day or two. Most billing system vendors will provide you with numerous options to learn the software: local consultants, online training direct with the vendor via Web-based services such as WebEx, written and multimedia tutorials, or training classes at the vendor’s location. 2. Better utilization of features. Standard billing systems have more features than you will ever need. The problem is that most small firms do not use half the features they should. A few examples: For more than 10 years, billing systems have had very good time-tracking features that help attorneys get the most billable hours out of every day. Yet many lawyers still fill out time sheets at the end of the day (or week) and hand them to someone else to enter into the system. It’s 2003 � use your software! There are billing systems that provide reports that go well beyond a basic receivables report. Receivables are nothing but potential income. Use the tools within your billing system and get paid. Statement options enable you to insert personalized messages or notes that clients would especially appreciate. Make them feel important and use custom messages. Other note features let you provide a marketing message to all your clients, announcing, for example, the hire of a new associate who specializes in a practice area: “See us for your next divorce! We just hired Jennie with 10 successful years of family law experience, making sure her clients get what they deserve.” A little over the top, but you get the point. 3. Know what your vendor can do for you. Most vendors have “hidden treasures” that are not so hidden if you just pay attention to their documentation, newsletters, or promotions. For example, the next time you venture into “Help” in your software, look for a video icon; you might have a video clip with audio that will walk and talk you through your problem. And those bothersome newsletters that you get each month or quarter � they’re not junk mail. Read them. Vendors pass along a lot of tips and tricks. You will be surprised with what you learn. Most of you can access a Web site from your desktop or notebook. So add the vendor’s “KnowledgeBase” Web site to your “Favorites” list. Most vendors have a KnowledgeBase full of tips, information, and technical support resolutions that go well beyond the software. Some vendors include network, operating system, and printer troubleshooting assistance. So what can you do to get the most out of your billing system? Take a little time to learn the software. Use the features you have at your disposal. And make sure you use all the resources your vendor has to offer. The result will be a smoother and more-efficient billing process, leaving you with less stress and more available billable time. This article was distributed by the American Lawyer Media News Service and originally appeared in Law Technology News. Kevin P. Cronin is a partner in the intellectual property department of Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley, and Ronald N. Weikers is a principal of Weikers & Co.

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