Note: This article is adapted from a CLE presentation I gave recently. Based on the feedback from that presentation, I thought this material might be of interest to readers of the Indiana Lawyer. In the next Start Page column, I will return to the series on Microsoft Word.
This article discusses the various online billing and e-invoicing tools available to lawyers today. As always, be aware of your ethical compliance responsibilities when utilizing any online or third-party service.
Lawyers used to be limited in what time and billing services were available. Typically, the information relating to a lawyer’s billing is the most important part of the practice. Billing records are used for all sorts of purposes, not just obtaining money from clients. Conflicts checking, accounts receivable and other reporting is often done based on the time and billing performed by lawyers. As a result, considering the transition from an existing system to a new system is in important one for the law firm. The transition needs to be as simple as possible, with an eye toward the future benefits of utilizing web/cloud-based tools in the law firm.
One of the best overviews of Harvest comes from this review on lawyerist.com (lawyerist.com/harvest-for-invoicing-and-estimates/) in 2012:
“This is an amazing all-in-one tool that can help you create professional invoices, keep track of your time, and detailed estimates in no time. The add-ons and bonus features that come with the package make it a top choice of users worldwide. With attractive layout, unlimited clients and wide accessibility, Harvest is a great solution for business management.”
Harvest has a very clean and simple appearance. Helpful tips are located right where you need them, walking you through each step in the setup and use process. There are helpful tutorials and support articles for almost any question you may have. In short, it’s easy to get up and running quickly with Harvest.
Harvest allows you to track your clients, projects, time and expenses. It will create invoices and allows you to send and track payments on those invoices. It connects with QuickBooks for accounting purposes.
The mobile app is great for tracking time while on the go. The web interface makes it easy to create, send and track invoices. It also works well in a team environment. While not legal specific, it is an affordable option for those starting out or those who just need a way to do online billing.
Clio is an all-in-one practice management solution that allows you to do online billing and invoicing. You can capture time and expenses while on the go through the mobile app, but generating invoices would have to be done through a web browser.
Clio is one of those programs that becomes more valuable the more you use it. I am admittedly a little biased, because this is my law practice management software of choice. Clio has the ability to integrate with other third-party services, including QuickBooks Online for accounting purposes (For more information, read: http://ow.ly/35ru30e6McO).
With proper setup, most, if not all, of your accounting needs can be met with a combination of Clio and QuickBooks Online (more on payment processing in a moment). Clio has vastly superior time and expense entry methods to QuickBooks, and its other capabilities as a law practice management software solution set it apart as a great solution for small to midsize firms. Read more at clio.com/features/integrations/quickbooksonline/.
Intuit has gotten into the cloud game with its QuickBooks Online offering. The ability to have a complete accounting solution in your pocket through its mobile app is impressive. You could, theoretically, do almost all of your accounting work on your phone or tablet. Other options include using a web interface or downloading the application to a PC or Mac computer.
QuickBooks Online works as you would expect, allowing you to add accounts and synchronize transactions with your bank. You can categorize transactions, prepare time and expense invoices (with the appropriate level of account), and even synchronize with other third-party services (such as Clio or Harvest).
The integration is where QBO really shines, since it will track the information you need on the back end from the input users like on the front end. Lawyers can utilize easy-to-use billing tools and accountants can have access to data in a form they are used to. This is a win-win.
Again, with the appropriate level account, you can handle payroll, connect with your accountant and run most of the accounting reports necessary to understand your firm’s finances. It can even import your existing data so you can maintain historical data. QBO is a worthy tool to consider for your law office. Check out QuickBooks Online at qbo.intuit.com/.
Once you send your bills, you need some way for your clients to send money to your firm. Payment processing is the most critical part of any financial solution and LawPay is up to the challenge. LawPay is a legal-industry specific credit card payment processing company. Touting itself as “The Experts in Legal Payments,” LawPay has been the “trusted payment partner to thousands of lawyers.” It integrates tightly with Clio, and it allows attorneys and firms to simply and securely manage online payments.
LawPay is well-established with many bar associations across the country, including Indiana (see lawpay.com/inbar/). It is also capable of being integrated into your website. LawPay is one solution that understands the differences relating to lawyer’s ability to accept retainer fees and earned income fees. Because it is specifically designed to work in a law firm environment, it’s one solution that is ready to go out of the box and can integrate with the other services mentioned in this article.
The ability to track time while on the go and easily bill for that time is a dream come true for lawyers. Many traditional options are not fun to use, have limited ability to do reporting (without specialized consultants), and have a high learning curve. These newer solutions are focused on data analysis and help you focus on getting the most out of your time, allowing you to see where your time (and money) are being used and adjust appropriately.
If you aren’t convinced, take one case that you can spend a little extra time on (or use a pro bono case for this). Sign up for trials of one or more of these tools and see how it works for that case. Using Clio and other web-based tools makes practicing law and even billing time more enjoyable, allowing some mental freedom to focus on what really matters most in our practices and lives.•
Seth R. Wilson is an attorney with Adler Tesnar & Whalin in Noblesville. In addition to practicing law, he helps manage the day-to-day technology operations of the firm. Seth writes about legal technology at sethrwilson.com and is a frequent speaker on the subject. The opinions expressed are those of the author.