Managing bills is often a complex job for a law firm. The tricky thing while generating invoices for legal works is that the billing procedure will not be the same for every case. Though hourly billing is the common practice used for billing, depending on the prospects of the client, nature of the legal work, and the risks involved in handling the case, the billing methods differ, thus making it more complicated. So, in order to generate quick and accurate invoices, adequate billing tools are required for every law firm.
Billing software is one such tool which serves the vital purpose for any law firm by automating the time tracking, billing and accounting procedures for all the legal works. It effectively saves time and generates error-free invoices.
Essential features for effective billing software
With so many products in the market, each having different features, it is essential to know the important features that make the software effective. Below are the things to look for while choosing software for your law firm. Basic as well as advanced features are included for your convenience, having knowledge of these will help you in making the right choice.
• Record work and track billable hours: Every attorney works on multiple cases in a single day. Recording the time spent on each and every case is essential to bill the client as well as to keep detailed record of the work performed on every project. A billing software with timer or a stopwatch feature helps to accurately measure the time spent on each case. So, while choosing billing software, look for the availability of timer option.
• Should provide service specific bill recording: This again comes under tracking billable hours. Since legal billing varies for different billing procedures like flat fees, retainer arrangement, contingent and transactional basis, the software should also allow you to record billable time on all the above mentioned aspects or on any other user defined things.
• Automated invoice preparation: The most time taking task in legal billing is the invoice preparation. If your billing software is effective in generating automated and accurate invoices according to the data collected from the billable time records, you can save significant amounts of time and money.
• Custom bill formats: The invoice format for every law firm will not be the same. Even for a same firm, the invoice formats will differ depending upon the type of transaction. If you choose software that provides only few standard billing formats, it is not helpful. Therefore, before choosing billing software, make sure that it allows you to customize your bill design according to your requirements. Some advanced software solutions also offer built-in bill designing capabilities which enable you to design your own formats using some advanced tools.
• Ability to maintain trust accounting records: Trust accounts are a separate form of accounts maintained for specific cases, in an effort to minimize the risk of non-payment. Trust accounting is a standard practice by most of the law firms which collect advanced client payments even before providing services. Maintaining accurate and separate trust accounting records is essential while you are accepting trust funds from your clients.
Hence, choose billing software that includes the feature of managing trust accounts eases your work. Some advanced software solutions also offer features like – not allowing the firm to overdraw a trust account, and allowing the firm to set a criteria to apply trust funds either to fees or to expenses at the time of billing and preparing invoices.
• Assist in budgeting: Choosing billing software that includes accounting is always an added advantage for your company. It helps you to avoid the hassles of re-entering the entire billing information for accounting purpose and hence reduces the error rate. It also avoids the need for purchasing other software that supports accounting. Billing software assists you with budgeting and also helps you to project your expenses without any errors.
• Availability of report making application: It is often said that most of the billing software solutions for legal firms are not designed to generate reports. So, it is important for every buyer to check for report generating feature while choosing software. These reports help in determining target costs, forecasting similar cases, and defining best practices for managing specific cases to ensure best possible results.
• Easy to use: Choose software that is simple to use. Any individual, even those who are technically challenged, should be able to use it. Moreover, the software should be compatible with your firm’s current software to ensure proper functioning.
• Right vendor: Choosing a right vendor is the first thing to do while you are looking for reliable billing software. A reputed vendor always focuses on client retention and hence offers a best possible product. However, to get more efficient deals, try to approach a legal billing software vendor who specializes in offering solutions for your firm size.