Time and Billing
What is Time and Billing?
Why should lawyers use time and billing software?
Abraham Lincoln famously said, “A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.” Although it is becoming increasingly common for lawyers to offer flat fees or subscription fees, most lawyers still bill their time by the hour. That means that, in order to get paid, lawyers must track the time they spend on their legal work and then regularly bill clients for that work.
There was a time when this was all done manually. Lawyers kept records of their time – traditionally in six-minute increments – on paper, then clerks compiled all those time records into paper invoices, which they would then send by traditional mail. In the rush of a day, lawyers often failed to record time, meaning lost revenue. The burden of converting those timeslips into invoices often meant lawyers were slow to send them out, and therefore slow to get paid.
Time and billing software streamlines both parts of that process: keeping time and then billing for that time. With the click of a button, lawyers are able to record activity as they work on client matters. In fact, some software now captures a lawyer’s time automatically. Those time records are easily compiled into invoices, which can be generated easily, even in batch, and send electronically, usually by email or through a client portal.
Doesn’t my practice management suite already include time and billing?
Just about every law practice management suite includes at least basic features for time and billing. The advantage of using time and billing software that is native to your practice management suite is that your time entries are automatically associated with your clients and matters. That makes it easy to track your work for a client and then invoice the client for that work.
When should I use a standalone time and billing product?
One reason to use a standalone time and billing product is if you do not use a practice management suite in your practice. Many lawyers – either because of the nature of their practices or the size of their firms – prefer other methods for tracking their clients and matters. For those lawyers, a standalone product makes sense.
Another reason is if you are looking for more advanced features in a time and billing product, such as highly detailed reports, robust analytics, or rules-based compliance with billing guidelines.
Standalone time and billing software almost always integrates with leading practice management suites through an application programming interface (API), so it is able to synchronize time and billing information with the client and matter records in those suites.
What features should I look for in legal time and billing software?
Key features to look for when selecting time and billing software for a law firm include:
- Easy time tracking.
- Multiple timers for quickly switching among matters.
- Automated time capture.
- Insights and analytics.
- Expense tracking.
- Trust accounting.
Some firms may want more specialized features. These can include:
- The ability to invoice using the LEDES format (Legal Electronic Data Exchange Standard).
- The ability to handle fixed-fee and alternative billing arrangements.
- The ability to invoice in custom or specialized formats.
Before buying time and billing software, you should carefully assess your own firm’s needs and look for programs that have the features that come closest to meeting those needs.
How does automated time capture software work?
Automated time capture software reduces the need for lawyers to constantly start and stop timers throughout the day. Instead, it tracks what you work on, captures the time you spend on each task, and compiles it all in a timesheet log that you can review and edit, if need be.
The advantages of automated time capture software are that it reduces the time wasted on manually recording time and it often is able to capture more of your time than you would manually. Because the software works on mobile devices, it makes it easy to track time when you are away from the office.
The main disadvantage is that automated time tracking software is not perfect. Plus, it may not properly capture time spent on activities such as phone calls or face-to-face meetings. Lawyers should carefully review their timesheets to check for errors.