From client management tools to knowledge bases, accounting programs, and time tracking methods, your law firm has plenty of software options to choose from.
But do they create more challenges than they solve? Patching together different and sometimes outdated software can take a significant toll on a firm’s organizational efficiency, productivity, quality of service, and even profitability.
A reliable, integrated practice management software helps your law firm:
Organize and execute matter-related workflows more efficiently
Better capture and invoice for billable hours
Increase transparency and accountability among team members
Provide a more consistent level of service to your clients
There are dozens of practice management solutions on the market. How do you pick the right one for your firm to invest in?
Benefits of a practice management software
Your law firm already uses certain software for time tracking, billing, and other aspects of matter management, and you may be wondering whether a practice management software is a worthwhile investment for your firm.
Although your software needs will depend on how big your firm is and what practice areas you work in, there are a number of reasons why an integrated practice management software can serve as a worthwhile investment for nearly any practice.
The right practice management tools can help your law firm:
Consolidate knowledge bases to increase efficiency and ensure consistency across matters
Track billable hours more effectively and send more accurate invoices
Increase billable hours by freeing up more time for your attorneys
Better delegate tasks and facilitate easier communication and collaboration between team members
Avoid costly mistakes, compliance violations, and billing errors
Taken together, these advantages can more than justify the cost of investing in an integrated practice management software.
Choosing a software: questions to ask
Once you’ve decided that a practice management software is right for your firm, the next step is to choose the best software for your practice’s needs. As you make that decision, there are a number of questions to consider.
Is the software cloud-based or on-premises?
One of the first and most important decisions you should make is whether you want software that is stored locally or in the cloud.
Cloud-based software offers your attorneys greater flexibility in choosing where they work since your practice management tools will be accessible from anywhere. They can also cut down on IT issues for your team and protect you against the possibility of data loss in the event of sudden hardware failure.
But cloud-based practice management tools also come with certain drawbacks. Since they rely on access to the cloud provider’s network, they may not be available if you lose access to the internet. They also present possible security concerns since your firm’s data will have to pass through the software provider and won’t be stored locally on-site.
By contrast, on-premises practice management software offers you a higher level of data security, which may be especially important if some of your clients restrict their data from being stored in the cloud.
Ultimately, the best choice for your firm will depend on your practice area, data security needs, and whether or not your attorneys need the option to work from home. For added flexibility, you can also look for a practice management software that supports both on-premises and cloud-based usage.
What integrations does the software offer?
A good practice management software should integrate with the other software tools you use every day. Otherwise, you’ll still find yourself switching tabs and windows throughout the day, and your firm’s data will still be stored in multiple discrete locations, increasing the chances of inconsistencies and errors.
In particular, you may want to look for software that integrates with your attorney’s email accounts and Office 365, so you can more easily generate, manage, and send matter-related documents.
What security features does the software include?
Your practice management software will be responsible for handling sensitive client data, and you’ll want to make sure whatever software you choose keeps this information secure.
If the software you’re considering is cloud-based, you should ask what the company does to ensure the security of data stored in the cloud. You should also look for software that allows you to set customized user restrictions, so you can place important limits on who has access to what data.
Is the software designed specifically for law firms?
There are many popular practice management tools on the market that serve as generalized “jacks-of-all-trades.” While these software options are perfectly fine in other professional contexts, law firms will usually find better value in a practice management tool specifically designed with legal practices in mind.
A practice management software built for law firms will include invoicing, billing, document assembly, and matter management features that are fine-tuned to meet the specific needs of busy attorneys, as well as industry-specific capabilities such as conflict of interest searches and trust accounting tools.
Does the software have the features we need?
This is perhaps the most important consideration of all.
A prospective practice management solution should offer a wide range of easy-to-use features that streamline your law firm’s workloads and free up more time for your attorneys. Here are a few important features to look for.
Calendars and matter management tools
A legal practice management software should make it easy to sort, track, and manage matters from client intake through to invoicing and payment. It should also come with an integrated calendar so you can keep scheduling clear and transparent for everyone at your firm.
Document assembly and management
The right software should also allow you to effortlessly import, export, file, and find all of your firm’s documents, even when creating those documents in another software like Microsoft Word or Excel.
Some practice management tools even include document assembly capabilities that allow you to quickly and automatically populate the fields in common legal documents.
Time tracking and billing
Integrated timers are another key feature that allows your attorneys to easily track their time from within your practice management software. And when it comes time to bill for those hours, your attorneys will also benefit from a software with time-saving billing and invoicing capabilities.
One of the biggest advantages of choosing a software that’s specific to law firms is the availability of conflict-checking tools.
The software you choose should include robust search tools that allow you to instantly see potential conflicts of interest, helping you stay within compliance regulations and protecting your firm’s reputation.
However, you should always be sure that the software provider has sufficient security measures in place before you invest in software tools that allow for remote access.
Get started with Tabs3
Tabs3 Software offers industry-leading software solutions designed specifically to meet the needs of law firms. Our mission is to provide legal practices with a wide range of reliable practice management, billing, and accounting tools.
Over the course of the pandemic, clients may have been increasingly unable or unwilling to pay for services they received. Tabs3 Software has worked to streamline the processes of billing and getting paid.
A change in the payment behavior of your clients may have been part of the pandemic’s collateral damage, and may have had an effect on your business’s cash flow. To minimize future risk, a comprehensive review of policy, procedures, reporting, insight, technology, and people is recommended.
Review your policies, procedures, and reporting
Many firms do not have a consistent policy that guides their collections process. It’s important to invest time and resources into establishing a policy that guides email content and communication around payment requests, to avoid damaging client relationships.
Provide clear, accurate, and timely statements
Clients are more likely to pay quickly when the service is recent and fresh in their mind. As time passes, invoices become more difficult to collect.
A key step to optimizing your collections process is to bill via email. Not only can you then invoice customers right after services are rendered, but you won’t have to wait a few days for bills to make their way to customers.
Be certain to provide enough details in the invoice while keeping legal jargon to a minimum. Recording billable hours and fees correctly also makes it easier for your bookkeeper to do their job. Every feature in Tabs3 Billing is designed to facilitate accurate entry of time and money.
Good software helps you accurately track receivables, including the invoices you’ve sent, what’s been paid, and what invoices are outstanding.
In some instances, customers may dispute an invoice and refuse to pay if they’re dissatisfied with the services they received. The ability to Write Down or Write Off all or a portion of a client’s accounts receivable balance is another way Tabs3 can simplify the work administrators do every day.
Make payments as easy as possible
Don’t force your customers to pay in any specific way. The more options you give them, the more likely they will pay you on time.
Tabs3 Billing allows you to enter a payment link when you email statements, so clients can pay securely as soon as the email is in their inbox. Even better, payments are applied directly to client accounts so you don’t have to enter a thing. Tabs3Pay allows you to get paid faster, right from within Tabs3 Software.
Use this as a chance to connect
Every interaction you have with your client leaves an impression. This is especially true when it comes to collections. Whether it’s over the phone or through email, it can be a challenge to address a difficult topic. Put yourself in their shoes and think about how you would want to be addressed in the situation. In addition, use this opportunity to let them know you appreciate their business.
There are many reasons clients may not pay their bills on time. Forgetfulness, negligence, unclear or incorrect bills, and subsequent delays can create unwanted challenges that can put your business at risk.
An unwieldy billing process can eat into one of a law firm’s most valuable assets: time. Attorneys know this, but changing office workflows requires planning and is best accomplished through manageable steps.
We’ve put together our top ten tips for better billing. We hope they resonate with your team.
1. Track your time
If you track your time, it’s easier to estimate how long tasks take, determine effective billing rates, and evaluate profitability.
To improve timekeeping habits, start with a month. Commit to thirty days and make it a daily practice. Consistency is your friend.
2. Get tech to work for you
Law firms spend a lot of time on administrative tasks. Track and analyze how you work, then find tech tools to reduce the hours.
For instance, the Tabs3 practice management software, PracticeMaster, has toolbar plug-ins for the programs you use every day, making timekeeping less of a chore.
Those who work on the go can also get mobile access with Tabs3 Connect.
3. Make tasks easier with software
Billing software reduces manual and clerical efforts, helps the whole staff bill on time, and reveals how the firm is performing. Aim for software like Tabs3 Billing that captures expenses and tracks hours worked, hours to bill, and non-billable time.
4. Pre-bill review as if it’s you
When you’re reviewing pre-bills, ask yourself, “Would I pay this bill?”
Bills are important forms of communication because they go straight to the heart of client trust. Use bills as an opportunity to solidify appreciation for your services.
Clients are more likely to pay bills that are concise and clear about what is being charged.
5. Plan billing into your schedule
Establish a policy for timesheet submissions and pre-bill review that fits a regular billing cycle, works for timekeepers, and increases the odds for compliance.
Be prompt in your billing and clients will return the favor. Process invoices monthly and use email statements to expedite.
6. Streamline your cash flow with timely billing
Cash flow isn’t the same as profit and loss. A company can be profitable while experiencing cash flow problems that drive it to bankruptcy. Regular billing helps firms maintain a consistent cash flow.
7. Stay on top of collections
A collections survey showed that at three months delinquent, 27% of accounts receivable won’t be paid. By six months, that number goes up to 43%, and at a year, it’s 75%.
If you don’t currently have one, develop a consistent accounts-receivable program:
Detail how you want customers to pay
Include terms of payment in engagement letters
Run monthly accounts receivable reports
Act on past-due collections immediately
8. Keep good clients
The most successful law firms keep a list of top clients and check it regularly. Know who brings in the most revenue for your firm and whose business is actually costing you money!
9. Make it easy for clients to pay
Although some firms are still wary of credit cards, the traditional reason not to use them, credit card fees, is worth the expense in collection cases to get paid and be done with it. Additional concerns, such as trust accounting compliance, can now be addressed by using a legal-specific merchant like Tabs3Pay.
10. Automate when possible
Automation streamlines manual processes and improves cash flow by enabling you to accomplish more with fewer resources.
We hope these tips have sparked some good ideas on how to shift old habits, improve daily tasks with technology, and strengthen your firm’s billing processes.
To learn more about how Tabs3 can streamline your billing, contact us.
Time is money, especially in law firms. Automating functions with practice management software can not only save a lot of time, it can increase a firm’s profitability.
What Automation Is, and How It Works
Automations are sets of instructions that perform tasks. They improve productivity and reduce human error by cutting out repetitive manual work. In our practice management software, PracticeMaster, we call these automations WorkFlows. Using WorkFlows, we’ve seen firms realize substantial time savings, such as a reduction of 33% in time spent processing paperwork. They work based on a simple if/then principle: “if” a trigger event takes place, “then” actions can begin. Use automations to streamline time-consuming processes.
One popular automation in legal services is document assembly. Identify frequently used legal documents, such as fee agreements and contracts, and you can set up document templates in the software. Each template has designated fields, such as name and contact information, sometimes called variables or conditional text, which represent case data. Save your templates in the software and select them as needed. With WorkFlows, after you enter a new client into the system, document assembly can begin with client data already filled in. Templates can include additional prompts, like to enter a fee for billing or set a calendar appointment with a client.
Identify What to Automate
The best kind of tasks to automate are ones you do regularly. Think about goals you want to achieve by streamlining your firm’s processes. Meet with your office administrator or billing clerk to learn about their time-consuming or repetitive tasks, and make special note of redundancies like duplicate data entry. Review how you enter time, enter new client information, and communicate with clients. Don’t forget about billing and payment collection. Are there tasks that take a long time, or things that are done the same way every time?
Identify two or three key things to automate, then implement them. As your team becomes more comfortable with setting up and running automations, you’ll find more opportunities to automate. Not sure how your software’s automation tools work? Reach out to a consultant or your software’s support team and ask how they can help.
What Not to Automate
Not everything can or should be automated. Processes need to be predictable for automation to work. Unique documents or anything that requires individual consultation, decision-making, or collaboration are not good candidates for automation. Until we figure out a way for computers to become more human, personal engagement and conversations about your client’s situation are what make your firm different from others. Those are your personal and professional skills that can never be automated.
Take Advantage of Available Resources
Automations may seem overwhelming, but don’t fear the work involved in setting them up. Take advantage of the tools available, and your firm will reap the rewards of the higher level of efficiencies. Saving time does not mean losing billable time. Automation allows you to spend more time with your clients, find additional clients, or plan for your firm’s future.
Invest the time to review all of your processes. Find out what your software’s automation capabilities are. Implement what you can now, and set up a plan for future automations. Although you’ll spend more time early on with automation research and setup, you will never regret the time you will save.
It turns out that not all trends are cyclical. Cash? Check? Like it or not, these forms of payment are going the way of the abacus and the typewriter.
Although there are good reasons to be cautious about adopting new technology, payment processing is one area where it pays to be ahead of the curve. After all, anything a firm can do to increase billable hours, reduce administrative work, and accelerate accounts receivable is good for the bottom line.
It isn’t only about improving internal workflows, either. Accepting credit cards also improves client satisfaction at the same time that it increases profit margins.
That’s why Tabs3 Software is excited to announce we’re now offering a built-in credit card processing feature, Tabs3Pay.
A valuable tool for law firms
Credit card processing, when implemented correctly, can add enough of a lift to key areas of a law firm’s success to create a competitive advantage.
Cash flow and processing time
Having an online payment option reduces the number of steps needed to make a payment, which increases the likelihood of clients paying quickly. In fact, the legal industry has become increasingly aware that accepting credit cards improves cash flow by 30 to 40%.
A few other benefits: credit card deposits often hit your bank account faster than a check, and you’ll save on the administrative time it takes to process other payment methods.
Client satisfaction and growing expectations
The legal industry is no exception to the growing customer expectation for convenience in making payments, including for business transactions. Providing the ability to make payments by credit card helps meet that demand while also creating a simple payment experience that can be completed from any device.
Overall, accepting credit cards offers greater predictability and stability, opening up opportunities to proactively plan for your firm’s future based on more accurate financial projections.
When selecting a credit card processing service, it’s important to select a software specifically designed for legal clients.
Running your payments through a certain processor puts the pressure on them to make sure the transactions are secure, but you still have an ethical responsibility to verify what that process is. Check if the processor is certified as PCI compliant. Your firm should also vet how information is being stored to ensure privacy compliance.
Don’t forget to ask about how trust accounting is handled. Most credit card processors deposit funds into the same account from which they withdraw the transaction fee, which can land a law firm in serious trouble.
Although this practice isn’t a big deal for non-legal companies, if the account in question is a legal client’s trust account, then the transaction fee has just been paid by the client, not the lawyer. Even if you act quickly to transfer the amount from your operating account, you’ve technically already accessed client funds.
To avoid these issues, legal-specific processors like Tabs3Pay are set up to deposit charge funds into the trust account and withdraw transaction fees from the operating account. We also protect you from similar issues with voids and chargebacks.
Likewise, we can handle your firm having more than one client trust account. After all, we’ve designed our software specifically for lawyers!
Craft your own approach
Tabs3Pay is part of Tabs3 Software, which means that if you want to sidestep double data entry by having your accounting seamlessly update with new payments, you can. With flat rate options and more, you can find an approach that works for your firm.
Visit our site to learn more about the benefits of Tabs3Pay.