Archive for Choosing Software

Should I use QuickBooks for Billing? Updated

It seems that everyone is striving to simplify, and this frequently leads to the questions “Why do I need a separate billing program? Can’t I just use QuickBooks for my billing?” Generally speaking, I answer “That depends on your business and your needs but, for most legal firms and many professional service firms, the answer is no.”

While QuickBooks has many good points, when it comes to professional services billing and reporting it has many limitations. These can be addressed by add-ons or in some cases, a work-around. Each firm is different so determining whether QuickBooks will work for your firm’s billing requires you need to understand your firm‘s needs and know what QuickBooks can’t do.

The first thing that is most critical for many law firms is that QuickBooks cannot automatically show Trust activity on the bill. The only way around this is to enter the transactions onto the bill which is complicated and can lead to errors. Additionally, while QuickBooks can be setup to track trust fund balances, it is up to you to manually ensure you don’t overdraw the trust account for any individual client. Given the high penalty of this action, do you want to depend on manual checks?

Another area to look at closely when choosing a billing solution is how you setup your rates. If you have QuickBooks Premier you can setup billing rates for a vendor or employee. If your rate varies by client you might be able to use price levels, however only percentage-based price levels will work correctly. Alternatively you can setup unique service items but this requires ensuring that the time entry person picks the correct item and the list can get long and difficult to manage.

Do you need or want subtotaling on your invoices – time vs expenses, subtotals by timekeeper, or totals by activity? You can manually insert subtotals on the invoice but it cannot be done automatically. Additionally there is no ability to create a timekeeper summary table, a popular feature with many professional services firms.

If you have a need to sort the entries on the invoice in QuickBooks in a particular fashion you must either type them in or choose them one at a time, there is no sort capability. There is also no easy way to show the timekeeper who did the work on the invoice.

If you bill clients for soft costs, those things for which you don’t write a specific check, there’s no direct way to track and bill customers. Additionally users cannot choose to allocate payments to expenses, fees or specific timekeepers. If the client pays part of the invoice balance the payment will be allocated proportionately across the items on the invoice.

While QuickBooks has a batch billing capability, you can only use this if you are going to bill the clients exactly what is on the bills automatically, there’s no ability to edit as you go. QuickBooks also does not have a pre-bill capability. If you generate bills and include time and costs and then choose to remove those entries from the bill or undo the bill, the entries do not return to billable status.

QuickBooks does not have the ability to do electronic billing like Ledes or Litigation Advisor. QuickBooks also does not have options to setup flat fee, split billing or consolidated billing arrangements for different clients or to assign different bill layouts to different clients.

When you choose a billing solution you also must look at the types of reports you will need to run. Will you want to see profitability on flat fees? Do you need to know revenue by timekeeper or responsible attorney? Whatever product you choose, make sure it has the ability to produce the reports you need.

Many billing systems offer integration with QuickBooks. If this is important to you it is essential you understand how they integrate and what they offer. Don’t just accept “we integrate with QuickBooks”. It is important to test and to talk to those using the product to understand what does and doesn’t transfer and how it transfers.

Can I use QuickBooks for my accounting needs? Probably. Should I use it for my billing? Probably not. While it is up to you to determine the best answer for your firm we are available to help. As an Advanced Certified QuickBooks Professional Advisor and a certified consultant on multiple billing solutions, we are happy to help you determine the best solution for your business. We specialize in helping with links and have developed guides for the links on several products. Call us at 203-254-7736 for your consultation.

Amicus Attorney 2012

It’s that time of year again, and Gavel & Gown has just released the Amicus Attorney 2012 products, including Amicus Attorney Premium Edition 2012, Amicus Premium Billing 2012, Amicus Attorney Small Firm Edition 2012 and Amicus Small Firm Accounting 2012.

If you use Amicus Attorney Accounting it is important to note that the product has been renamed to Amicus Small Firm Accounting. If you are using Amicus Attorney Premium Edition you should be switching to Amicus Premium Billing. Amicus Premium Billing is tightly integrated into Amicus Attorney, making it an easy to use billing solution. However, Amicus Premium Billing does not have general ledger and accounting capabilities. To meet your accounting needs, Amicus Premium Billing links to QuickBooks. You can still meet your billing needs by linking either the Premium edition or the Small Firm Edition to other solutions, like Timeslips.

A big area of change for Amicus Attorney 2012 is in the area of document management. Both the Premium and Small Firm Edition offer a new Documents Module to make it easier for you to find your documents and work with them. In a single click, you can open, edit and print documents, add new documents and create time entries without having to open the file details. New filter capabilities allow you to filter by file type and to limit your view to active files. Gavel & Gown has also added the ability to search documents or files using full-text search or by document profile search.

If you do a lot of work with PDFs, you can save time using the new Amicus Tasks toolbar in Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Reader. Similar to the Microsoft Office toolbar, this allows you to associate a PDF with files, view related file details or send a PDF as an email attachment to your Amicus contacts.

In a firm with lots of files, you can now save time in finding just those you are working on by designating files as favorites and filtering the file index to show only your favorites.

For those that are frequently out of the office but need to be notified of new phone messages, Amicus now has the ability to send phone messages by email. You can also create customizable email messages to your contacts and automatically merge in information from Amicus.

While there are many other new features for all users of Amicus Attorney here are a few more highlights:

  • Faster Access to Events details via File name hyperlinks
  • Keep up with client referrals with a new field in Client contacts
  • New preferences allow better tracking of return phone calls

One thing to note:  If you are still using a Palm OS device, that connectivity for these devices has been discontinued.

If you are using Amicus Attorney Premium Edition, there are additional new features:

  • Amicus will forward your daily agenda via email
  • Enhancements to billing include faster performance, better functionality “at a glance” file values and an improved QuickBooks link
  • Simplified licensing procedures

You can visit the Amicus Attorney website (www.amicusattorney.com) to learn more about What’s New in Amicus 2012 as compared to your version or call us at 203-254-7736 to discuss the options for upgrading.

Saving Time and Money With Software

(This article is reproduced from a web article that appears on Solo Professional.)

Computers are a tool that can help you save time and money. They can also help you waste time and money.
What Are Your Needs?

In order for your computer and software to save you both time and money, you need to do three things:

* You must first determine what you want and need to accomplish so that you purchase the right computer and software.
* You need to setup and learn to use your tools.
* You must use the applications consistently so that you have meaningful information.

What Software?

Computers can be used for many tasks including writing letters, tracking income and expenses, keeping a calendar, maintaining a list of contact names and addresses, generating bills, analyzing information, creating presentations, communicating with others and doing research. For what specific tasks will you use your computer? Plan to use your computer for tasks that are repetitive, require manipulation of numbers, will be presented to others or will require revision or updating. Make a list of your must haves, can’t haves and nice to have functions.

With your goals for your computer in mind, talk with people who can give you unbiased advice as to what software programs might be useful. If you are a graphics designer, speak with other graphics designers. If you are an attorney, speak with other attorneys. Check with trade associations and other solo professionals, asking for recommendations.
What Computers?

With the knowledge of the software you want to use, you can determine what computer to buy. Certain applications will only run on Windows based PCs, others are more suitable to a Macintosh. Some applications will run well on Windows XP Personal, other applications may be more suited to Windows XP Professional. You can also get some guidelines on how much processor speed, memory and hard disk space you need at a minimum, and how much you will benefit by increasing these capacities. Buying a little more now, may enable you to keep the computer longer before you need to spend more time and money to upgrade.
Time and Money Savers

A frequent use of the computer – that saves both time and money – is bookkeeping. You save time by quickly gathering your information for your taxes and for measuring your business. Bookkeeping software, including QuickBooks®, Quicken®, Peachtree®, Simply Accounting®, MYOB® and others can save money by helping you identify the financial strengths and weaknesses in your business. It can also save your accountant time in preparing year-end reports and tax returns. Be sure to discuss this software decision with your accountant and get his or her recommendations both on what software to use and how to set it up.

Word Processing software can help you save time by allowing you to create a document once and then revise it as needed. You can also keep copies of your documents on the computer instead of printing them on paper and filing them in a drawer. This saves time later when you go to search for the document, since computers can search quickly and thoroughly. It saves money on paper and ink.

Spreadsheets can help you save money by allowing you to analyze numbers quickly and thoroughly. This may help you make a better decision because you can look at things more quickly in more ways than if you had to do the analysis by hand.

Billing software can help you make sure you don’t miss out on time that should be charged to a client. In addition, a well laid out bill will reduce calls from customers asking for more information. This will help you get paid more quickly as well as reduce the time you spend on these types of questions.
Time and Money Wasters

Time is frequently wasted with computers as people buy the wrong application for their needs and then try to make the application work their way. Or they get a computer with lots of things they don’t need and spend time trying to figure out all the functions. There is no reason to spend time learning to use software, just because it came with your computer. You can remove it, or ignore it unless you feel it can help you.

Another time waster is the Internet. While there is a lot of useful information on the Internet, there are also lots of ways to waste time. When you go online try to have a specific goal and allocate a set amount of time. If you can’t stay focused and need research on a specific topic it may make sense to hire someone. If you want to go online to “explore,” set a specific amount of time and use a loud buzzer to remind you when time is up.

Over utilizing the computer is another time waster. If you have a simple form to fill in it may be faster to enter the information by hand or to type it with a typewriter rather than trying to create the image of the document on the computer in order to enter the information.

Sending an email instead of making a phone call can be a time saver or a time waster. If the item is complex and may require a lot of back and forth, the phone call will probably be more efficient. I often have people contact me for technical support via email. Sometimes it works very well. However, when the answer is complex or may require many steps or the steps may vary depending on specific information, I get off the computer and make a phone call. In this area especially it is very important to know your audience. Some individuals will do much better with email information or instructions than others.

Think about what you are trying to accomplish and whether the computer will help you with the task, or whether you can do it faster and more easily by hand.
Learn to Use Your Tools

When we get something new we all have the desire to immediately start using it. However, taking the time to read the instructions or to hire someone to train us may make a lot more sense. If you have ever tried to put a bicycle together you know that it is much easier to get it right if you follow the instructions. Without the instructions the odds of putting all the pieces in the right place the first time are much harder. The same is true of computer software; an expert on the program or the instructions for the program may help you get it right the first time.

I’m the first to admit that I have yet to find an entertaining software manual. I wouldn’t expect anyone to read these books from cover to cover, but most manuals have a getting started section and an overview. Using these will help you start off on the right foot and get to know what the software is capable of. Then, as you continue you can refer back to the manual or the built-in help for more guidance.

Many people benefit from hands on training or guidance. Experts can be found on almost every program. If you decide to get one-on-one training for yourself or to attend a class, be sure to check out the credentials of the trainer you are considering. In most cases anyone can call themselves a trainer on a particular product. Ask for references. If certification is available on a product make sure the trainer is certified, and most importantly make sure you feel comfortable with the person and his or her style. I know many individuals who have had to change trainers because of differences in communication style. The web site for the program is usually a good starting place for finding competent trainers. Also be sure to ask others for a referral.
Use the Applications Consistently

There is an old acronym in the computer industry – GIGO. It stands for Garbage In Garbage Out. This is especially true with bookkeeping programs but applies to billing, calendar, contact management and many other types of software as well. The information you get out is only as good as what you put in.

If you want to use your bookkeeping application to track your business and to prepare your information for your accountant, you must enter all income and expenses into your program. Otherwise the information you get out will be incomplete and less useful.

Set up a schedule that will work for you whether it is daily, weekly or monthly. If you do not want to do the input on a regular basis, or if you feel your time is better spent somewhere else, hire someone to do the work for you. However, don’t do this until you know the end results you need and how you want to see the information. Otherwise you will not be able to check that the information is being input properly. It is extremely important to check the work regularly and to make sure you use the data.

The same logic applies to your calendar and contact information. If you don’t keep it up-to-date it loses its value. Set aside regular time to update contact information so that when you go into your contact database you know that what is there is correct.
Summary

Overall, the right computer software, used properly can save you time and money. Before you purchase any new program, ask yourself, “How will this help me do my work faster or better, and what steps will I need to take to get it to work with me?” If you can’t answer these questions, or if you don’t like the answers, try to get more clarity and focus before you move forward with your software purchases.

© Copyright, Caren Schwartz, 2002.