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Although most small firms have time-and-billing software, here’s news that may be surprising: Many lawyers don’t use it. In fact, according to our latest American Bar Association technology survey, which will be released in May, only 41 percent of attorneys in two-to-nine lawyer firms, and just 53 percent of lawyers in shops with 10 to 49 attorneys use T&B software. This, to be blunt, is a major strategic mistake. If you don’t effectively “capture” your time, you will fail to collect all your earned revenue, or fail to create a realistic picture of how much a particular matter cost in comparison to how much revenue it generated. And your administrators, who must process and track your billable hours, will waste time — which ultimately costs you even more money out of pocket. Fortunately, it’s never too late to start using time-and-billing technology, and there are many excellent choices for small firms. In fact, you may already own enough software. Options range from using tools already built into your existing case management system, to purchasing new, dedicated time and billing software. Here are some issues to consider when evaluating options: 1. INTEGRATION One of the hallmarks of automation is entering data only once, and using it often, so integration with other systems is paramount. Your time and billing application may not be the first software package you buy. If you are adding it to existing financial software, make sure it integrates easily. If, for example, you already use Quicken’s QuickBooks or Peachtree Financials for accounting, you will not want an application that cannot share data with QuickBooks. Many time packages link up to case management software, to full accounting and general ledger products, and to hardware, such as PDAs using Palm Inc. or Pocket PC operating systems. 2. CONVERSION If you are migrating to new T&B software, be sure to discuss and negotiate conversion services with your new vendor and/or consultants. You should never have to discard historical data just because you are changing applications.And once it’s converted, it must be checked for accuracy. While easy conversion can remove an obstacle to a transition to a new application, assign someone who can oversee the process and verify that the data was converted properly to the new system. 3. RIGHT VERSION Most of the T&B systems come in several editions, from light to industrial strength. Typically, you’ll see introductory versions, single-user editions, and advanced, “enterprise,” or network alternatives that may be more suitable to firms with multiple timekeepers. Software may be offered for use on dedicated server hardware or for high-powered databases like Microsoft SQL Server (which are not included in the price of, nor provided with, the time and billing software). Some T&B packages offer state-of-the-art features you may want or may not need, such as e-mail-based electronic billing, to send your bills without having to generate a paper copy. While not all of your clients may want to interact electronically, these options can help your small firm to offer the same kind of automated processes that large firms are often expected to provide to corporate clients. Translation: If you don’t have them, you might lose an opportunity to win business. 4. ADD-ONS Enhancements to T&B systems make many packages more powerful than ever, yet you may need to invest in additional technology to get the full benefit. For example, some products allow you to split a time entry across clients or matters, to more accurately reflect where the time or expense occurred. As you consider alternate billing strategies (such as flat rate billing), you’ll find that many time-and-billing programs support the need for flexibility. Likewise, as your firm’s lawyers increasingly use PDAs to manage information while away from the office, you’ll appreciate the growing number of programs that support synchronization with Palm Inc. or Pocket PC operating system devices. 5. ASPs Some law firms have been understandably leery about putting confidential T&B data into online application service providers (ASPs), where data is hosted on third-party Web sites. But those fears may be overrated. With today’s increased security, encryption and access controls, ASPs are safe and valuable options, especially for remote access by traveling attorneys. 6. TRAINING When adding a critical application such as T&B software, never underestimate the need for training. Sure, some of these systems are fairly intuitive, but without training, you will almost certainly miss some of the helpful features that can minimize the time you spend billing time and increase your capture rate. Your software vendor or technology consultant should be able to provide trainers, or refer you to third-party trainers, who are facile and have the proper context to address your firm’s needs. You may be reluctant to make what could be a significant investment in T&B software for your practice. But this is truly one of those situations where you have to spend money to make money. By failing to automate time management and streamlining your billing process, you may be throwing time — and money — away. David Whelan is director of the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center, and is based in Chicago. E-mail: [email protected]. On the Web: www.lawtechnology.org.
Does your firm have time and billing software available? All law firms: 78% said yes 2-9 lawyer firms: 76% yes 10-49 lawyer firms: 92.9% yes Do you personally use T&B software? All law firms: 45.5% said yes 2-9 lawyer firms: 40.6% yes 10-49 lawyer firms: 52.5% yes What do you use? 2-9 lawyer firms:TABS (33.3%), Timeslips (28.2%), PCLaw (12.8%), Amicus Attorney (5.1%) 10-49 lawyer firms: Juris (26.5%), TABS (17.6%), Elite (11.8%), Prolaw (11.8%), Omega (11.8%) Does your firm have case management software available? All law firms: 41.1% yes 2-9 lawyer firms: 50% yes 10-49 lawyer firms: 51.4% yes Source: ABA Legal Technology Research Center

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