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Time collection and billing is crucial to any law office. Lately, almost every crucial law office task is getting some assistance from the Internet and its user-friendly overlay, the World Wide Web, and time collection and billing is no exception. Last week we looked at the new Web-based time collection facility from Sage US, the Timeslips folks. The product was a convenient way for confirmed Timeslips users to input their time, as long as they were near a Web browser. At a cost of between $10 and $50 per year to access the separately licensed Timeslips database, the company’s Web-based feature was affordable, but require an “always-on” high speed connection to work well. Timeslips Remote, which can be used installed on a laptop or home computer costs $130 per installation, but can be used when you’re “off line” and want to enter time and expensive information. Web-based, thin client “rent-an-app” time and billing is also available from elite.com and TimeBills.com. Elite.com’s TimeSolv offers a variety of new reports and Web-based billing presentment, and lowered its cost a bit. TimeBills has changed its name to OpenAir and is in the process of adding an off line data entry application similar to TimeSolv’s TimeSync add-on. Both programs are getting better and beginning to provide a real alternative to law firms accustomed to Thick Client time and billing applications. OPENAIR OpenAir still has three basic products — time collection and billing, employee attendance recording and expense reimbursement reporting. Firms of five attorneys or fewer aren’t charged a monthly fee; larger firms pay $3.95 per month per attorney for the Time program and $6.95 per month per attorney to use all through models. The company charges everyone who wants to have the company print and mail client bills. There is no “per invoice” charge if the firm downloads and prints the bills. OpenAir has new offline time and expense collection module that synchronizes with the Web-based database when the user connects to the Internet, and is quite similar to TimeSolv’s TimeSync module. This product — OpenAir Offline — will cost $4.95 per month for lawyers who wish to use it. Attorneys who spend most of their time in the Office and have a high speed “always on” connections won’t need it; attorneys who spend a lot of time on the road with a laptop, or who are still using a slow dialup Internet connection, will find it very useful. Elite.com’s TimeSolv has done some tweaking and added a variety of new reports and a new billing option since last we looked. The company claims 11 new reports measuring firm and timekeeper productivity and analyzing the importance of relationships with particular clients. We didn’t try the newly announced data exchange with Intuit’s QuickBooks accounting system. The company’s online billing mode, wherein the client is notified of the availability of the latest bill online, uses a logon and password the lawyer provides and can view and download bill directly from the Web. Most clients are not sufficiently computer-aware to make use of this option, but some will, to their good advantage, in analyzing the work the law firm is doing. Elite.com charges “premier”users (who pay $9.95 per month per attorney) $.99 for each Web-based bill, and “pay as you go” users (who pay only $.99 per printed or downloaded invoice) $1.49 per Web-based bill. Elite.com has eliminated charges for toll free customer support calls. Elite.com provides extensive Web-based information on how to use TimeSolv, but sometimes it helps to speak with someone. Not only is the service now free, but calls are followed up with an e-mail asking whether the service representative was helpful and whether the customer requires additional assistance. In this day where some companies seem bound to make customer support a profit center, we applaud a company concerned enough to make sure that lawyers can actually use its product. It is easy to update Thin Client Web-based programs whenever new features or new reports are ready. (This is one benefit of the Thin Client approach.) We expect to see improvements to both programs in the next several months, and we’ll report back on what each vendor is doing. CABLE VS. DSL Although you can use these, and other Web-based services with a dial up modem, they are best used with a relatively high speed, “always on” Internet connection. Lawyers who don’t have such a connection to the Internet will probably prefer some Thick Client application residing on the desktop computer or Local Area Network (LAN) server. High speed �always on” used to mean at least a fractional T-1 line costing at least several hundred dollars a month, and was simply impractical for the smaller law office. With the coming of so-called Cable Modems coming in through a Cable TV connection and DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) service riding on a voice telephone line, high speed “always on” is now for everyone. But which? At $40 per month including e-mail account and standard dialup ISP features, a cable modem service did need some tweaking from time to time, and suffered from random outages, but it was still better than a dialup connection. Besides, as more and more users are added to the same Cable “loop” that provides your service, which is to say “as Cable Internet gets more popular”, the service is bound to slow down. But at a similar price, $40 per month, a DSL connection might be a better bet. Like the Cable installation, the DSL installation was free, including the internal ATM modem required to interface between the DSL network and the local computer. As DSL uses the same phone wires that carries phone conversations, if there is an outside analog telephone line nearby, the installer will not have to run new wires. DSL service does vary with the distance between the telephone company’s DSL-equipment “central office” and the computer, but anything within three miles ought to be able to get substantial improvements from V.90. Our installation was A (for asymmetric) DSL. ADSL uses two different data transfer rates, with a slower rate to upload than to download. As most lawyers don’t upload substantial amounts of data, the “slow” upload rate of 128 K, more than double the nominal 56K from today’s standard V.90 modem was perfectly satisfactory. Downloads in the 300 to 400 K range makes quick work of 20 Megabyte downloads, and hit lists and opinions from Lexis and Westlaw almost fly. The DSL connection is established using a non-dial version of Windows Dial Up Network application; we leave this “on” most of the time, but easily turn it off at the end of the day, to make triply sure that some brilliant high school kid can’t get into the computer. Although DSL users do share data on the lines from the central office to the ISP’s concentrators and servers, those wires should be adequate for considerably heavier data transfer. The DSL service in this case had one other nice feature: the service provider also provides dialup POPS (points of presence) so that users could dial in to the DSL ISP from other than the DSL line, should that be necessary. The DSL experience is extremely positive. At $40 to $70 per month for a single user for relatively low speed ADSL, and in perhaps the $150 range for a single speed DSL connection suitable to a half dozen lawyers at a time, the service is reasonably priced, makes the Web experience more pleasant, and makes use of the Web-based billing and other Thin Client applications feasible. We’re told that DSL is available in major commercial areas, although suburban and rural availability is problematic at this time. SUMMARY Web-based Thin Client time and billing applications by OpenAir.Com (formerly TimeBills.Com) and elite.Com are adding features and becoming serious competition to Thick Client time and billing software. DSL is fast and good value, and makes it much more pleasant to work the Web for legal research or time and billing. If you’re not big enough for a T-1 and DSL is available in your community, we suggest you look into getting it. DETAILS TimeSolv:Elite.com, 5100 West Goldleaf Circle, Los Angeles, CA 90056 Phone:(800) 730 – 6899 or (323) 642-5200 Fax:(323) 642-5400 Web: http://www.elite.com/. OpenAir. Com 80 Lincoln Street Boston, MA 02111 Phone:(617) 351-0230 Fax:(617) 350-3496 Web: http://www.openair.com/ E-mail [email protected]

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