The Fine Art of Getting Paid on a Mac
This paper was originally presented at ABA TECHSHOW 2012 and is reprinted by permission.
While most attorneys primarily focus on their legal work and serving their clients’ legal needs, it is equally important for them to pay attention to their back office needs. If you can’t bill for your time, you can’t get paid for your time. Your timekeeping, billing, and accounting software is at least as important as the other software and technology you employ in your practice.
The evaluation of timekeeping, billing, and accounting software is time consuming, fraught with frustration, and confusing. However, the more time you spend determining your firm’s specific needs, the available software and services, and how the two mesh, the more time you will save yourself in the long run.
There are three equally important considerations when evaluating new timekeeping, billing, and accounting software. First, you need to know what your firm needs. Second, you need to know what software and services are available to you. And third, you need to know how the two will work in concert, and how your workflow will benefit from careful consideration, planning, and evaluation.
#1: Internal Needs and Requirements Evaluation…
Your first – and most important – consideration is a careful and detailed evaluation of your firm’s specific needs and requirements. Take the time to carefully consider and evaluate what your firm does, how it works, and what your firm’s needs are. Some important inquiries would include:
- What computer platform does your firm use? Do you have multiple platforms (i.e., Macs and
PC’s)? Do you heavily rely on mobile devices?
- How, how often, and when do you and your employees enter time?
- Do you track expenses for client reimbursement? What sorts of expenses are you reimbursed for, and what sorts are non-reimbursable?
- What sort of payment terms do you provide?
- How many “timekeepers” will you have? Do they do the same or substantially similar work? Do they bill at different rates for different clients?
- Do your clients have specific billing and/or bill format requirements (i.e., LEDES 98B export, ABA/UBTMS Task Codes, specific carrying balance and payment notations, etc…)?
- What is the level of technological competence of your timekeepers? That is to ask, will switching software cause more problems than it solves?
- What is your current workflow? How often do you invoice? How often do your clients pay? What forms of payment do you accept?
- Where do you bank? Does your bank offer any assistance with cash flow management?
- What accounting software do you use? If you rely on an accountant or CPA, what specific requirements do they have?
- What, exactly, are you looking for? Do you need a complete practice management solution; one that incorporates calendaring, task management, billing, trust accounting, invoicing, and the like? Or, are you just looking for something that will help you keep track of your time and produce invoices?
- Etc, etc, etc….
It is important to spend the time, before doing anything else, to carefully, thoughtfully, and completely evaluate your firm’s workflow, needs, and requirements. Failure to do this important first step will result in much wasted time down the road – like when you realize that the software you’ve spent a week trialing lacks the ability to export bills in a client’s preferred format.
#2: Evaluation of Specific Software offerings…
Once you have a complete sense of what your firm does and how it does it, you can begin evaluating software and services. During the presentation, we will discuss a number of the more popular timekeeping, billing, and accounting software solutions. It would be magnificent if, in the course of one hour, we would be able to cover all of the available software and services in minute detail, but that’s not going to happen.
In reality, it takes about 8-10 hours to adequately evaluate a software or service, to see what it offers and how it works, and to determine if it will fit your firm’s needs. We will discus a number of the more popular timekeeping, billing accounting software solutions (including web-based software as a service (S.A.A.S) solutions) available to Mac-based legal practitioners. The software evaluated include the following:
We will also be discussing QuickBooks, and FreshBooks, as well as other accounting software.
Keeping in mind the important Latin principle, dualis listmaximus (loosely translated, it means that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who put things on a list of one of two things, and those who don’t), it might be useful for the reader to consider the various ways of organizing the work of comparing and contrasting the Macintosh offerings of time and billing software. In no particular order, they are:
- Quickbooks vs. everything else
- Accounting software vs. time and billing software
- Locally run software vs. cloud-based software
- Things that interact with Quickbooks vs. things that don’t
- Copping out vs. staying true to the religion (aka “cheating” or using Windows emulation to run Quickbooks for Windows)
- Things that adapt to your workflow vs. things to which you must adapt.
- Case Manager/Practice Manager software vs. time and billing tools
At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s not very practical to take the time to actually try out everything and then pick what works best. What you need is some ability to filter the offerings into a subset of things that merit your attention and then spend your time considering which members of that subset are worth your focused time and attention.
For example, if you simply must have a full-fledged accounting program and not merely a time and billing targeted solution, your list is three or four items long. If you already have a case or matter management system with which you’re happy, then you can look past the case management solutions that incorporate those offerings.
And if your account insists on you using Quickbooks and you don’t want a different accountant, then you have just three choices: run Quickbooks 2012 for the Mac, run Quickbooks Online, or run the Windows version under emulation.
#3: Work flow and other practice considerations…
It is well beyond the scope of this paper to document the Frankenstein-like solutions Juip and Metzger use themselves. Suffice it to say that we use a blended approach that we will demonstrate to the shock, amazement and awe of all concerned.
They’ll do so with a mix of magic, some smoke and mirrors, some dogs and ponies, perhaps some ninjas, zombies and Chinese narcoterrorists all of which will stun the audience into believing they’ve witnessed cleverness and practical work-flow tips. It’s all about making money on your Mac.
Randall A. Juip is the principal of the Juip Richtarcik Law Firm in Detroit, Michigan. His practice focuses on medical/professional defense, complex civil litigation, risk/crisis management and public relations. Mr. Juip has tried over 40 civil trials, and regularly presents to professionals on issues of medical/legal topics, technology, and risk management.
Mark C. Metzger is in private practice in Naperville, Illinois, where he represents clients who develop or use information technology systems. Mark is a frequent presenter on the use of technology in the practice law, with his earliest such presentations dating to 1995 and his most recent being at last year's Macs in Law Offices conference in Orlando. He is a returning member of the TECHSHOW faculty, an unapologetic gadget lover and a loose tea snob.