The Best Law Firm Timekeeping and Billing Software: An In-Depth Comparison

Attorneys looking to keep time and bill clients need software that can work for them – enabling multiple attorney users to bill at different rates based on their matters and allow administrators to invoice clients, manage trust accounts, and receive payments.

Many of the companies in the space have similar basic features.

We spent the time to review six competitors in the space, seeing what they do better and worse than each other. But, when it comes down to it, every one discussed here has the following:

    1.Create new clients

    2.Create new matters (sometimes called “projects”) that are either billed hourly or flat-fee

    3.Log time related to a matter

    4.Create invoices related to a matter

    5.Account for received payment (some, not all, of these actually allow you to receive payment online with a service like Paypal)

    6.Assign users to particular matters and clients

    7.Restrict user permissions as needed (e.g. prevent users from billing clients, restrict users to see and bill certain matters only – though some are more robust than others)

Practice Management Software vs. Timekeeping / Billing Software

In the past we’ve reviewed law firm practice management software including companies like Clio, MyCase, and Rocket Matter. You may be wondering what’s the difference between their “practice management software” compared to this “timekeeping and billing” software. Generally, practice management software is more comprehensive. It includes things like organizing your matters and related correspondence and documents in addition to scheduling, task management, document creation and assembly. Oh, and on top of that these companies also do timekeeping and billing with trust accounting.

But, some attorneys just want a way to keep time and bill clients without all the extra features that more comprehensive practice management software has. And that’s fine. To each his or her own. That’s why JurisPage wrote these articles, to help you look at timekeeping and billing software for your law firm and see what’s the best fit for you.

Cloud-Based vs. Server-Based Timekeeping and Billing

I took a look at six companies that stand out – Bill4Time, Ebillity, Freshbooks, Timeslips, PCLaw, and CosmoLex. Of these, PCLaw and Timeslips are the only services that are completely server-based; the rest have cloud-based solutions.

What’s the big difference? Server-based systems like Timeslips and PCLaw require that you install their software on a computer server that all users can access. With that setup, you may need an IT person to do the server setup and installation, also taking steps to make sure the server is secure. Let’s not forget that you’re a law firm with sensitive client information and the last thing you want is someone hacking into your server and stealing or deleting your user information because you didn’t know what you were doing or you hired someone unqualified. It’s fairly well-known at this point that law firms are an easy target for hackers looking to go after specific companies because law firms do not have the information security that their corporate clients do.

With server-based software, you generally pay a one-time installation fee for each user license. If your firm has 10 people, you pay for 10 user licenses. These licenses usually cost $800-$1,000 each, with some discounts for more high-volume orders.

With cloud-based software, you pay per each user per each month, generally anywhere from $20-$40 per user per month.

While you may feel some sense of “ownership” by having server-based software in that you only pay a one-time cost to get the software and install it as opposed to ongoing monthly fees, the cost savings with a server-based system are deceptive as there are hidden costs. Hiring an IT firm to create, install, set up, and secure a server can be expensive. Oh, and what happens when your software is out of its service warranty (usually 1 year, if you pay extra for it)? Your software provider won’t take your calls unless you get an annual expensive service agreement. You may think that you’ll never need help with your software, but you absolutely will. Then, let’s not forget that the software you bought will be outdated next year when the newest software version comes out and the company stops offering security patches to your software. So, you have to buy the newest software version.

In short, the cost savings you think you’re getting from server-based timekeeping and billing software are likely nonexistent once all real costs are factored in.

Generally, cloud-based services are the most scalable and easiest to get started. Cloud-based services are secure (potentially more secure than server based) and they comply with all legal ethics rules when used properly (just make sure you have a good password!). Cloud-based timekeeping and billing services automatically update when new features are added and do not require an IT professional to come to your office to set up / maintain your system. Also, with their monthly fee, you get unlimited support. Because of this, and because of the experience I had while testing them, I would not recommend PCLaw or Timeslips, or any other server-based timekeeping and billing software for that matter, for law firms.

The Best Timekeeping and Billing Software for Law Firms

Of the timekeeping / billing software tested, the ones that stand out are Bill4Time, Ebillity, and Freshbooks. Freshbooks has a very user-friendly interface and integrates with a lot of third-party applications you may or may not use in your practice day-to-day. But, Freshbooks is not attorney-centric. It does not have trust accounting or ABA billing codes integrated (some lawyers want that). Bill4Time and Ebillity were built with lawyers in mind and have many advanced features you may want to take advantage of, providing for significant time savings over any competitor’s software.

In the next few weeks we’ll be sharing our reviews of Bill4Time, Ebillity, Freshbooks, Timeslips, PCLaw, and CosmoLex.

Let us know your thoughts on timekeeping and billing software for attorneys.

Andrew Cabasso
About the Author: Andrew Cabasso
Andrew Cabasso is an attorney and co-founder of JurisPage, an online marketing agency for law firms, now part of Uptime Legal. Andrew has given many lectures and CLEs on website design and Internet marketing to legal professionals. He is the author of Search Engine Optimization for Lawyers and The Complete Guide to Attorney PPC. Follow Andrew on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.

8 comments on “The Best Law Firm Timekeeping and Billing Software: An In-Depth Comparison”

  • Great Article Andrew! I am a novice to the inner workings of technology that my colleagues and I can use for our firm, but I know that it is refreshing to see an article like this explaining practice management software VS. speciality software. Most articles I have come across seem to be promoting specialty apps and generic CRM like Microsoft Dynamics so I was starting to feel as if practice management software wouldn’t be the way to go, but the article made me realize that if I want ONE software with all the features my firm needs in one then I should get practice management software. I signed up for two free trials and plan to sign up for the ones you recommended, but I wanted to know if you were familiar with Practice Panther and Cosmolex and which do you prefer?

  • Since comments are related to CosmoLex, I as CEO of the company would like to clarify couple of points.

    First, CosmoLex is NOT just a time&billing software. CosmoLex is a complete law firm practice management software and additionally includes fully integrated IOLTA accounting not included in any other cloud product listed here. Very soon (by April 2015) we will also have fully integrated Operating Accounting also providing small law firms one tool for everything.

    Rick Kabra, Ph.D.
    CEO | CosmoLex Cloud, LLC

  • This article was great. I am very interested in your follow up article. I have one comment on Timeslips. I have been using Timeslips for 16 years, they do have a cloud based feature.for capturing attorney time. The cloud feature allows the attorney to enter time from anywhere and then the time is downloaded to the database.

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