I am the managing partner of a twelve attorney firm in Toledo, Ohio. Our firm is evaluating new billing software and we are looking into some of the cloud-based solutions. We are currently using a desktop program that we have been using for fifteen years. The program handles our billing as well as our accounting. We have kept up with the updates to the program and the software has worked well for us. Several of our younger attorneys have used a couple of cloud-based billing programs in other firms and are trying to convince the firm to change over to one of these programs. They believe it is easier to enter their time sheets and they believe the software is easier to work with. What are your thoughts?
I agree that the subscription cloud-based billing programs are easier to learn and use. In part this is due to limited function and capabilities. However, user simplicity is only part of the equation. The bigger question is whether the software will meet your needs. Many of the cloud-based programs were designed for solo practitioners or very small firms with limited reporting requirements. While these programs are getting better and inheriting more features they are still not up to par with the older desktop programs. Limitations include:
By the time you add in the cost of additional accounting software that you have to buy and maintain and factor in the number of users – subscription cloud-based solutions can get expensive for a firm such as yours that may have twenty users. The cloud-based billing software alone may cost between fifty to one hundred dollars per user per month – in your case one thousand to two thousand dollars per month. This cost will be offset by savings on hardware, IT support, user training, managing software updates, etc.
Cloud-based subscription billing software is getting better every year, is the wave of the future, and is a good solution for solo attorneys and very small practices. However, it may not have the functions and features that you need in your twelve attorney firm. Analyze the reports you are using now and what you need out of your system and then compare your requirements against the capabilities of each cloud-based system that you are considering.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC
Our firm is a 18 attorney firm based in Tucson, Arizona. Our practice is a boutique general liability defense firm. Our clients tend to be self insured large corporations and smaller business firms. Currently all of clients are billed by the hour. Recently we have been discussing whether we should propose an alternative billing approach to our clients. We would be interested in your thoughts.
I do not want to discourage alternative billing – there are a lot of benefits that can be obtained – however I find that firms practicing your type of law and that have your type of clients that alternative is talked about more than actually implemented. You may find that your clients like the thought of the certainty of fixed fees but have concerns about the quality of representation under such arrangements. Recently, a litigation defense law firm asked me to interview their clients concerning their satisfaction with the law firm. When asking one general counsel about his thoughts regarding alternative billing he told me:
"My concern with fixed fee billing is that there might not be the financial incentive for the law firm to dedicate all the resources and best efforts to obtain the best results for our company. I prefer hourly billing with case management plans and budgets. I want our law firms to be financially successful as long as they achieve results for our company and not be penalized or constrained by fixed fee arrangements."
You may find that your clients are open to discussing alternative billing arrangements but may be hesitant when it comes to implementation. They are comfortable with hourly billing.
With this said I think you should explore the dialog with maybe one pilot client and see where the discussion leads. Insure that you do the proper analysis of that client's billing history, overall risks, and develop a fixed fee strategy that not only allows you to attain your desired billing rate but provides for a risk premium as well. Also build in ability to take exceptions for matters that fall outside the scope of the fixed fee arrangement.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC