A 40-Lawyer Firm Wants to Migrate to a New Time-and-Billing Program
By Neil E. Aresty
THIS FIRM IS considering some of the traditional software packages that are often suggested for this niche; to wit, Tabs III (by Software Technology Inc.; Timeslips by Sage U.S. Holdings, Inc.-Timeslips Division; Juris by Juris Inc.; ProLaw by ProLaw Software; and Elite by Elite Information Group, Inc..
There are plenty of others on the market, both old and new. It is not my intent to analyze all the offerings, nor to go deep into a competitive analysis of the above mentioned ones. Rather, a discussion of the issues underlying this decision should guide the firm toward the right package.
The first issue is to decide whether the firm would be better off getting an all-in-one system or purchasing an application designed to do just one thing (e.g. time-and-billing versus accounts payable, and then integrating the different packages). Today, all-in-one accounting packages include time tracking, billing (accounts receivable), general ledger, cash and accrual financials, trust accounting, check writing (accounts payable) as well as integration with calendaring, client contact information, conflict of interest searching and in some cases, even more.
In the context of this 40-lawyer scenario, I say it is time to go for the all-in-one approach. Start fresh. Run two systems in tandem if you have to, but move towards the modern integrated, all-in-one accounting system.
A surprising number of firms still run their accounts payable through manual back office systems. Many firms have felt more comfortable automating time-and- billing operations, but not the GL and accounts payable functions.
For firms in this camp, the conversion to an all-in-one integrated package should be less of a headache; all they have to worry about is converting their T&B system. They will find it much easier to implement the GL and accounts payable system because there will be no conversion. Rather, they will be, in essence, starting from scratch.
The one thing law firm administrators can count on is that the accounting conversion is going to be a headache; and, in many instances, a nightmare! The total cost of an accounting conversion is hidden in the hours of lost time reviewing data and reports, looking up lost items as well as the additional hours of consulting time necessary to convert, clean and update data. Once completed, however, it will be worth the effort. The result should match the expectations of all involved; the attorneys, the back office staff and the clients.
Don't make your decision based solely on price. Price does not equal total cost! Indeed the total cost in an accounting conversion/implementation comes from the untold hours associated with converting data, cleaning up data, and, last but not least, in reviewing reports to make sure that the data is coming across correctly. Then there are the hard to measure costs associated with the realization that the application is not giving you the types of information you thought it would in order to manage your firm; or, that it does not allow you to do things in the middle of the matter life cycle (or billing period, prior to closing the books) that you would normally do in the paper world.
Neil E. Aresty is a principal with Legal Computer Solutions, Inc., in Boston. He provides law office automation consulting; has been a Timeslips certified consultant; and now implements Web based litigation support through LextraNet.com.