What’s the Best Billing and Practice Management System?
Do you remember the first billing system you used? I do. It was a piece of paper and a pencil. My first boss used a yellow pad. I used a yellow pad too. It is not like I clerked with Bob Cratchit. I first clerked in 2007. In the growing and expanding tech times that last nine years have been like 63 years. Technology expansion seems to unfold similarly to the passage of time for dogs. One human year is seven dog years. One tech year is like seven human years. In the last nine years, legal billing systems have grown tremendously. There are lots of options.
There is a distinction that we need to make in this article. Practice management is different than time keeping. Lucky for us, most software out now does both.
WHAT ARE WE LOOKING FOR IN A BILLING SOFTWARE?
The list I wrote down was much larger than the one below. After some thought, I boiled it down to the essential seven things we should all want.
- Create new clients.
- Create new matters or projects and set fees.
- Track time.
- Create invoices.
- Receive payments (hopefully online).
- Project management: Assign users to particular matters and clients.
- User permissions flexibility.
The deal here is that if your software does not do the essential seven things above, then it is probably time to look for new software. You will have plenty of options to review. This is helpful and hurtful. Sometimes too many options are a burden.
The primary options are Amicus, Time Matters, MyCase, Clio, Rocket Matter, Abacus, TABS, and Firm Central. There are more options too. We cannot look at all of the options today. We are going to take a look at MyCase, Clio, and TABS. This area has been written about a lot. There are great comparison charts and literature of what system is best for you. Therefore, I am only going to write about the systems that I have personally used as a small firm lawyer.
Bottom line: Great for solo attorneys.
Pros: This program is intuitive and very easy to use. The mobile option is nice. Price is nice.
Cons: The billing regeneration is tough. Trust account management and QuickBooks integration was a bit wonky.
Overall Comments: Easy to use and the program rarely failed to update. It nearly always synced. There are limited ways to use your notes and dictation. Basically, you cannot print your notes without copying and pasting into Word or GoogleDocs. The Android app was slick. The Apple app was slower. If you use iPhone, then hopefully, MyCase has patched or updated the app.
Bottom line: The once great program might be great again if it starts catching up.
Pros: TABS integrates legal billing and accounting in the same software. Flexible billing and it is fast. Robust option for firms with ten or more lawyers.
Cons: Not really designed for small firms. The pricing could hurt small firms. The cloud and desktop version take some getting used to and feels old.
Overall Comments: Tabs3 has been around for over 35 years. Tabs3 is an excellent software accounting solution for your law firm because it is specifically designed for law firm accounting requirements. After that though, a host of other software seem to be easier to use. The user experience and intuition of the user needs work. I think most people are familiar with Quickbooks. Tabs3 is more of a proprietary software and most office managers and lawyers are not well versed in its ways. The back-office solution is good for billing, AR/AP, and general ledger.
Bottom line: At this time, this is as good as it gets and it works well in the cloud.
Pros: Decent price point, simple and easy to use. The integration side of the software works well with Dropbox Business and Google Drive.
Overall Comments: Clio is a simple product with elegant cloud computing components. Simplicity can be tricky though. It does not always equal efficiency. Many Clio tasks take multiple clicks. New matters (cases) require entry of data in multiple places. Getting bills out is a little cumbersome because batch billing takes some effort. It really reminds of project management software with a legal flair. Clio appears to be in expansion mode right now. After that, I hope Clio goes back and continues to stay ahead of the curve by investing more in the software and updates.
There are no perfect legal billing and practice management software products out there. Clio is pretty darn good though. You can always build your own software, however, that seems silly and really expensive. If you hear of any emerging software, then please let us know.