Technology, outside providers can ease billing

A recent study by Thomson Reuters found that in 2005, lawyers collected an average of 92.7 cents for every dollar's worth of time logged. By 2016, that rate had shrunk to 82 cents.

The causes for such a discrepancy can be debated, but the fact remains that lawyers are having more trouble than ever collecting their fees. That can be a back-breaker for solo attorneys.

That's where new developments and innovations in collecting fees can make the difference between getting 82 percent of your bills collected and pocketing 100 percent.

The most hands-on way to perform that task, short of pounding on doors yourself, is with billing software. Such programs have been around for years, but only lately has automated billing gone to the cloud. Even industry leaders Quickbooks and TimeSlips now have web-based versions available.

But a local company, Eagan-based TimeSolv, has a cloud-based subscription model product that lets lawyers create invoices and track time and expenses from anywhere on any device.

"I think shifting to a pay-as-you-go model has made a big difference in billing software," said Scott Clasen, marketing director for TimeSolv. The company's rate for solos is $34 per month, which includes free support, training and upgrades.


Forecast: Cloudy

Clasen said that regardless of whether solos go for his company's product or another one, the time for disregarding cloud-based applications has come and gone.

"Web-based companies are still having to fight that fight, not just us," he said. "Solo lawyers tend to be risk-averse, and that applies to technology adoption, too."

The growing move toward cloud-based automated billing in the legal field is simply an outgrowth of other professions - such as doctors and accountants - communicating and sharing documents and messages with clients via secure web portals.

"We lawyers always lag behind," says Todd Scott, vice president of risk management at Minnesota Lawyers Mutual and an adjunct professor of legal technology at Hamline University's Department of Legal Studies.

That said, Scott added that he's seeing an encouraging uptick in the use of automated billing and timekeeping software among solos.

"Lawyers are finding that it's easy, affordable and safe," he said. "I think once people started doing their banking online, that fear factor started to go away."

Scott attributes the rise in the use of automated, cloud-based billing software to a trio of factors. One, convenience is king, and clicking a "pay now" link on an invoice from one's lawyer could scarcely be more convenient.

Two, the move by industry leader Quickbooks shows that providers big and small are willing to go to the cloud. Finally, web platforms are simply ideal for the mundane but important information a lawyer has to share with a client - documents, messages - that might be too sensitive to share via email.

"With a web portal, you know when a client has read what you've sent, including invoices," said Scott. "And programs like TimeSolv fill a gap that needed to be filled in terms of convenience and functionality for processing invoices."


Click to pay

Another option for getting clients to cough up that involves even less effort is using a credit card processing company such as St. Paul-based ClientPay, which focuses on the legal field, using web-based payment processing.

A service such as ClientPay can attach a click-to-pay link to invoices, even if the invoice has to be forwarded to a bookkeeper. The company takes its cut from fees collected once the card issuer collects its own fee.

"That person can act on it right away instead of putting it on a stack with a hundred other bills," said ClientPay vice president Ryan Beck. "The goal should to get your 90 days past-due receivables down to nothing."

With collection percentages dwindling lately for lawyers, Beck said newer technologies and services can put the onus back where it belongs: on the client who owes for your services, rather than on you and your staff - if you even have a staff.

"The key for solos is making their collection rates as strong as possible and finding the tools that make it as easy as possible for clients to pay," said Beck. "They want to reduce that soft cost of spending time chasing down payments."

Published: Wed, Aug 30, 2017