We received a tremendous response to our first column. We appreciate
all the comments and suggestions - keep them coming!
In a galaxy far, far away . . . wait, that’s a different “Episode II” – sorry! (but by all means, go and see George Lucas’ latest masterwork – it’s spectacular!) This column will touch upon a subject near and dear to our collective hearts - billing for your time spent on client cases.
You’ve come to your techno.senses and purchased a case management program. You followed all good advice and have implemented your system intelligently (see Ross’ recent article on successful case management implementation tips here on LLRX.com at www.llrx.com/features/cmsystems.htm). You are now entering all your dates: your appointments, deadlines, court dates, etc. on the calendar; you are tracking your telephone calls and the time spent on your to-dos. Wouldn’t it be great if you could bill the client from the information that has already been painstakingly entered into your case management program instead of having to re-enter everything in your billing program? Or even worse, calculate the time you have spent by hand and type everything using your word processor and then have someone else enter it into your billing software? How much time will that take? What if you forget items and don’t bill for your time? How much work do you which inadvertently becomes pro bono?
The good news is that you don’t have to re-enter all the information or
calculate the time manually. Virtually all modern case management and
billing programs have a link(s) available that will send the information
entered into one program to another program. And in our situation, that
means sending time entries directly to the beating financial heart of your
practice, your time and billing system. Life doesn’t get much better than
this – simultaneously knowing what happening on all your open files AND
billing the client for every moment of work. OK, admittedly winning the
Powerball lottery, some sex or perhaps a really cool new laptop might be
better . . . but not by much.
So how do you get to this enlightened stage of billing nirvana? First, you need to do your homework. This means understanding how your specific case management system and billing system allow importing, exporting, linking, synching with each other, etc. Next, create a game plan upfront before ever installing the linking functions for each program. This will save you time (and remember, time is always money, even if you’re not actually writing out a check) as well as eliminate many headaches in the form of duplicated data, rejected entries, and other ugly elements that can be the by-products of a synching process gone wrong. The following case management programs – some of the market leaders, all allow varying degrees of synchronization with legal billing systems: Amicus Attorney (www.amicusattorney.com) (PC Law: www.pclaw.com, Timeslips: www.timeslips.com, TABS III: www.stilegal.com, Quickbooks Pro: www.intuit.com), Time Matters (www.timematters.com) (PC Law, Timeslips, TABS, Juris: www.juris.com , Quickbooks Pro), and AbacusLaw (www.abacuslaw.com) (Timeslips and PC Law).
PracticeMaster (formerly known
as CaseMaster – www.stilegal.com)
and ProLaw take a different approach. Instead of linking, these companies
produce both case management and billing system products. In the case of
ProLaw, the two key law office functions – remember the famous zebra
campaign representing a consolidated Front Office, Back Office approach –
are all part of one software system. PracticeMaster directly connects to
STI’s TABS III billing system for real-time integration of case and
billing info. Other case managers and other legal billing systems also
link, sync and/or integrate – you need to do your homework in advance of
securing these systems.
What do you need to know about your potential case manager-billing system link beforehand? Well, several things:
- Does the link work in “real-time” (in this context, “real-time” means the information that is posted in one program is sent immediately to the other program or in fact the two programs actually share the same data files)
- Is the link a synchronization process and/or does it require an import/export approach? Do you have to take this data exchange a step further and send the information to the other program, and if so, is it simply a click away or is it a more complicated export/import approach?
- Is the link bi-directional (information added or changed in either program will show in the other program) or is the information sent just one way? In other words, if you enter time in your case manager, does it flow to the billing system and that’s the end of the story? Or can time entered into the billing system be also viewed from the case manager’s screens?
- How is the link set up? Is it manually set up for each user or from a central location? With 3 or 4 users, manual “by user” configuration isn’t a big deal. When there are 50 users involved, a manual “by user” configuration process is about as much fun (and as much of a challenge) as wrestling with an alligator. Also, if the case manager has a “server modules”, does the server module need a link set up as well?
- Do your activity or transaction codes match up in both programs? This is typically essential. If your billing system says “No. 58, RRC, Received and reviewed correspondence”, your case manager needs to have that same code available for time entry and pass-through. Do you have enough timekeepers licensed in your billing program? Have both programs been aligned and matched properly so as to not create duplicate entries that would require really cumbersome manual cleanup?
- Is there even a link available? Um . . . actually, that should probably be the first question to ask.
Once the link is properly set up, what can you do with it? The fact
that two case managers both claim they link with the TABS III billing
system doesn’t mean they do it in the same way. It doesn’t mean that the
same kinds of information flow between the two programs. One case
manager might allow a one-way import of TABS III client information but
not time entry transfer into TABS. Another case manager might allow
client information to flow back and forth as well as time entries. The
point is that seeing a “feature box” checked off indicating your case
manager integrates with nineteen different billing systems doesn’t mean
much in and of itself – you need to clearly understand what the linkage
actually does for each billing system.
So now you can send the time you have already entered in your case management program to your billing program. Time that you previously did not bill for, or would have otherwise slipped between the cracks, you can now catch and bill for:
a. Phone calls;
b. To dos;
c. Appointments / court hearings;
d. Notes entered;
e. Document preparation.
A link properly set up and used will eliminate duplicate entry and minimize mistakes: clients will only be entered in one program instead of several places. Your case manager’s client addresses and contact information will be consistent with the same client info in the billing program. If a client address changes, just correct it in one place and the other program will be updated, either automatically or upon the next sync.
We can hear those crying out “but I don’t track my time – I only work on contingency files or on flat fee matters.” Even so, a link between your case management and billing programs can benefit you. Track your time and see where most of your time and firm resources are spent; on what type of case; what is done; what cases are most profitable warranting expansion of your practice and which cases are such hourly equivalent losers that you’d make more flipping burgers. What about client costs? You need a way of billing them back to the client for reimbursement but at the same time, it can be very helpful to have comprehensive “financial status at a glance” ability when viewing the client’s matter file in the case manager. Having costs advanced listed only makes sense instead of having to separately open the billing software and look it up. It’s always easier and preferable to use one program instead of two.
A good link between your billing and case management programs will basically save you time (which gives you more billable time or time for yourself), help you to stamp out the evil scourge of duplicative entries and of course, minimize mistakes.
To Palm or Not to Palm, that is the question.
We can hear you saying, “This billing stuff is great, but what about when I’m on the road? Don’t I have to re-enter all the information that I’ve done out of the office?” We would answer with a resounding “No! Not if you use a Palm-sized handheld computer!”
There are several types of hand-held devices on the market. The two main, most popular devices use either the Palm operating system (the first and original) or Microsoft’s Pocket PC operating system (which used to be referred to as “Windows CE”: basically a mini Microsoft Windows). Going into detail about what each one does and their capabilities is beyond the scope of this column. There are dozens of very capable handheld PCs in every size, shape, color, and at prices ranging from under $100 to over $700. The key is not which one “feels” good when you hold it but rather, which handheld PCs are supported by your case management and billing programs. You MUST know whether a handheld PC will sync with your software systems before you take it home and develop a meaningful relationship with it. Take our advice and your handheld PC will be your best friend instead of an aggravatingly expensive paperweight.
Syncing your handheld PC and your case management program is very simple once the link between the two is configured correctly. Simply put your device in its cradle (or eliminate wires altogether and use infrared, if that is available to you), hit the sync button and the information is immediately transferred and updated between the two. The information that can flow can include calendars, contact/matter info, to-do lists and sometimes even case notes. Buy software such as “Documents to Go” (www.dataviz.com) and you can even take Word and WordPerfect documents with you. Adobe has a free Palm PDF reader as well (www.adobe.com).
When you link your handheld PC to your case management program, you will always have your calendar, contacts and to do list available wherever you might be. Need to schedule a hearing with a judge or another attorney at the courthouse? Pull out your handheld PC and immediately know what dates will work for you. Enter the hearing on your device, sync with your case management program upon your return to the office, and viola! The date will appear on everyone’s calendar. (There are also cool games, eBooks and even the contents of websites (see www.avantgo.com!) that you can download to your handheld PC. Take a look at Ross’ CLE materials for his “Mobile Lawyering” presentation for the skinny on handheld PCs (www.microlaw.com/whatsnew.htm and then click on the link for “LegalTech Los Angeles 2002 - Taking the Legal Show on the Road”).
When you are at the courthouse waiting for your hearing to be called or waiting for the judge, don’t just sit there wasting valuable otherwise billable time! Use your handheld PC to work on your to-do list or to look up the number to an insurance adjuster and call to discuss a settlement on a case. Enter your time using software specifically designed to permit this (take a look at TimeReporter: www.iambic.com and DTE InHand: www.aps-soft.com/Products/InHand/Index.html). When you’re back at the ranch, the time you entered on your device can be easily transferred to your case management program and/or billing system; you will have a record of what you did for your client plus you can then submit a bill for the time spent. In addition to using your handheld PC with your case management program, more and more legal billing systems will allow you to sync with Palm OS-based devices which means you can track client costs while on the road and have them transferred as well as your time entries.
As always, the best advice we can give you is “don’t reinvent the wheel.” Use the billing and handheld PC links that come with your case management program to effectively stay on top of your cases and put a little extra money in your pocket . . . and that can’t help but put a smile on your face.
NEXT ISSUE: Watch for the third in this series of case management integration columns.
Ten Hot Case Management Integration Tips
1. Most liability insurance companies require duplicate calendars; check with your carrier to see if using a handheld PCs calendaring capability will count as calendar number two.
2. Using a handheld PC is also a “mini backup” for your case management program. Keep your device with you and not at the office to safeguard your data – it’s got all your contacts, your calendars and your to-do lists all duplicated from the office’s case management software!
3. The billing and handheld PC links are usually already built in to the case management system: nothing else to purchase. Note that more and more legal billing systems either have handheld time-entry capability, either built-in or with add-on products like those previously mentioned.
4. Enter all your time on a case and your to dos in your case management program; not only will this help you to keep on top of all aspects of your open files but will also make it more likely you’ll bill all your time, rather than have those little “tenth-ers” dribble away.
5. Check all your key software systems for the ability to integrate with your case management system - you may already have everything you need and not know it!
6. REGULARLY check the case management program vendor’s website for any updates and patches available for your program – while it may be less important to keep your word processor completely current, it’s really important with your case management software.
7. Before you fork over big bucks on a handheld PC, make sure it will sync with the software you currently have or are planning on implementing. It does you no good at all to buy a shiny new Compaq iPaq only to find it doesn’t integrate with your case manager.
8. Research other uses for your handheld PC – there is a plethora of capabilities above and beyond the basic trio of calendar, address and to-do list tracking. As previously mentioned, view and even edit word processing documents, check travel information, view live GPS-linked maps, read the news, view the Federal Rules of Evidence and Civil Procedure and much more.
9. Learn how to actually USE your case management and billing programs, your links between them and how they interact with your handheld PC - they will become your best techno.friends. And yes, this means getting . . .
10. TRAINED! Training is a very good thing; have everyone in the office trained and be very picky and selective about who trains you. Think of it this way: if you were accused of committing murder, would you hire a first year wet-behind-the-years criminal law rookie to defend you? Of course not – you’d hire the best criminal defense lawyer you could afford. Why wouldn’t you take the same approach in finding and hiring a case management trainer? There’s no software product that will interweave itself into the very fabric of your practice. Allow plenty of time for implementation, training and learning; it won’t happen overnight but is well worth the time invested.
See you next month for Episode III – keep your ideas, tips and suggestions coming.