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Law Technology: Ross Ipsa Loquitur
Answering a Common Question: ?I?m a Solo, and what legal billing system should I get??
A question I am regularly asked on legal listserves: ?What is a good program for billing/invoices/time keeping for attorneys? I am a sole practitioner and for now will be the only user timekeeper. I mostly bill hourly but plan to have contingent fee cases in the future. I don?t currently have any software.?
First, here’s a quick and dirty list of some “terrestrial” products (locally installed, although all can be cloud-hosted):
- QuickBooks Pro – not legal specific and less features than the legal-oriented products above
The above are locally installed software, all capable -Tabs 3 includes Tabs PracticeMaster Basic – their entry-level practice manager. PCLaw also has basic practice management functions.
Web-based/cloud billing is an option and here are some product leaders:
- Credenza – along with the three above, these all web-based practice managers with billing capability
- Time59 – web-based legal billing
- Timesolv – “ “ “
All are suitable for a solo practice, lots of functional differences between the various locally installed and web-based alternatives. But the reality is, that you would be fine with any of these, short of long-term questions like well-organized/accessible case and document information.
It’s a start . . .
My friend, Nerino Petro from the State Bar of Wisconsin pointed out that MyCase is really worth considering along with the longer-established web-based systems. My question whenever a relatively new product/service is involved is exactly how long has MyCase publicly been available? I thought it was less than six months since it was publicly released. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. But if that’s in fact the case, it doesn’t matter to me that there are satisified early users – I want to see a track record of at least a YEAR in business before I will trust a company that is going to be entrusted with the most important and sensitive data my clients have (especially with SaaS / cloud-based products where the provider actually has control of your firm?s confidential data).
Difference of opinion maybe, but the other issues still hold ? one user indicated she had RocketMatter already, but was thinking of switching to MyCase (not sure why she?s thinking about this). In such a situation, should you jump when her current program ? RocketMatter – works, has a track record and the 2.0 release sound very promising. Given that her data is in it already, it makes sense to look at it before thinking about switching. Here’s the press release about the new version.
As the veteran of hundreds of data migrations, I can assure everything, even when it goes as smoothly as it possibly can, it’s still a pain in the butt and almost always takes more time and money than initially expected. Well-coordinated migrations between systems can make a lot of sense if there’s a really good reason to move to different systems, but if there’s not a good enough reason, it’s illogical to go through it.
Also, for the original question – the web-based products will be more costly over the long-run – monthly fees forever – it’s an undeniable fact (no matter how many white papers these companies float out to indicate to the contrary). Clio or RocketMatter are priced about $60/atty per month (or $51/month if you sign up for a year). MyCase is $39/month. Credenza Pro (from the Amicus people – a product I’m becoming more and more impressed with,) is $25 per month. Houdini, Esq. for a true solo is actually the cheapest – free for one user (but with a company reputation of being a bit difficult to deal with).
So that’s ? for a true solo:
- Clio – $600ish per year, $3000 over five years
- RocketMatter (on the annual pricing plan) – $612ish per year, $3060 over five years
- Credenza Pro – $300 per year, $1500 over five years
- Houdini Esq. ? Free
Total Attorneys in Chicago has just released a brand new case management platform (with billing) for $1/user/month ? pretty much free. Info is here. Intriguing but unproven ? and one wonders how long a $1/month business model is really sustainable ? my feeling is that I don?t want my clients to overpay, but I also don?t think underpaying is in anyone?s interest if it doesn?t allow the software/services provider to actually stay in business ? common sense, right?
For bookkeeping all of these need QuickBooks Pro – so add about $200 and perhaps over five years an upgrade to stay reasonably current at about $150ish – so expect about $350 over five years. You could have QuickBooks Online also, but there is no direct integration between these products and web-based billing systems necessarily.
In comparison, you can get more fully featured billing with long-established products like Tabs 3 or PCLaw (and just because someone’s solo doesn’t mean they can’t have clients with complicated billing needs – been there, done that!). For example:
Tabs 3 with PracticeMaster Basic – $295 – if you’re on their software maintenance plan you get unlimited tech support and all updates/upgrades at $110 per year. So one year cost is $395, five year cost is $845 (and that’s for 2 billing attorneys/staff, not just one with the pricing for the web-based products above). It also integrates with QuickBooks Pro for bookkeeping. Realistically, add at least $500 upfront for 2-3 hours of an experienced consultant’s time to help get it setup in the best possible way. With web-based products, you’ll have to talk to the remote company to help make configuration choices. Even if you add online backup to be the equivalent of the backup functions web-based products offer, a solo could backup to a free DropBox account so zero cost on that.
Of course, this is the start of the discussion – the next, and more important conversation is about the features and functionality you’d actually need/want/prefer. From flexibility in statement formatting, to specialty functions like contingent fee settlement statements to modern necessities like task-based billing, e-billing, PDF bills, etc., all these factors must be considered – a list of “must haves” is the place to start and I’ll talk about that in Part Two of this topic, coming next week.
Summary of the threshold stuff:
So with the local product approach, you get LOTS more features and functionality in the area of billing at a much lower cost over time (but more cost typically upfront).
So that’s the cost comparison for the original poster with a brand new practice. For the original poster regarding a transition from one system to another, you’d have to add the cost of someone’s guidance in migrating data, unless you could talk the new provider in doing it for you (maybe, maybe not).
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