The legal industry has long relied on paper checks and manual processes to handle billing and invoicing. As technology has increasingly integrated itself into law firm processes, however, more firms are turning to automated payments, particularly with the rise of a remote and hybrid workforce.
From greater accuracy to getting paid faster, automated payments offer many benefits for law firms. If you seek the greatest efficiency in your billing processes, look for an all-in-one practice management platform that combines accounting features and automated payments as integrated steps in the same convenient system.
Making the switch is a win-win: clients receive better service, while you’ll be able to improve your financial visibility and gain the flexibility to offer alternative payment terms.
Reasons to Make the Move to Automated Payments
Automated payments offer a number of benefits for law firms. For starters, firms still mailing paper invoices and utilizing manual processes have surely experienced errors. These inaccuracies can have detrimental effects on your firm’s overall financial health. Automated payments significantly reduce errors, making it easier for you to receive payments for the amounts you’re owed.
Eliminating manual invoicing tasks also frees up staff and others to focus on higher-value work that better serves clients. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, automated payments naturally result in faster payment as they automate steps that often introduce delays, removing many of the obstacles to receiving payments that paper bills and manual processes present to clients and vendors. When it’s easier for them to pay using the same methods they use to pay utilities and shop online, you get paid quickly and spend far less time chasing down aging invoices.
The Drawbacks of Using Multiple Systems
Many firms use popular accounting systems like QuickBooks and may consider using them to handle their billing. While these systems are preferable to manual processes, relying on multiple systems or tools to handle practice management, accounting and billing does have drawbacks.
When automated payments are handled outside of the practice management workflow, staff will still be dogged by inefficiency—usually doubling the steps to bill, because they’ll continually have to jump back and forth between systems. This disconnect prevents firms from creating the seamless processes they need for peak efficiency and risk mitigation. Multiple systems also mean more vendors to work with, which in turn mean additional license fees, potentially higher costs and multiple channels of communication, further hindering efficiency.
Moreover, popular business accounting solutions are not necessarily tailored for law firms. For example, QuickBooks requires a number of complex workarounds and customizations to even start handling some common legal billing issues, including sensitive trust transaction management, practice management reporting, billing realization and other client-level fee arrangements such as flat fees, evergreen subscriptions, or contingency fees. While using a practice management solution that integrates with QuickBooks can help ease some of the effort demanded by these workarounds and reduce redundancies, it’s still not the ideal solution.
How, then, can firms best implement automated payments? By turning to an all-in-one practice management platform that also handles payments. Providers of legal practice management systems have long recognized that integrating business management workflows and information into an all-in-one system enhances client service and improves firm efficiency. Integrated payments are an important piece of a complete practice management system.
Why an Integrated Solution Is Better
The most successful approach for law firms looking to make the move to automated payments is to choose an all-in-one practice management platform that combines automated payments and all your firm’s other accounting needs into one system. The right end-to-end system will not only bring seamless workflows to your payment processes, it will support the unique features and compliance regulations that law firms require.
Ease of Use
All-in-one practice management platforms designed for law firms will ensure users do not have to constantly switch between disparate systems, and they also provide for unified training and support. The result is an integrated, efficient system that is easy to use.
Another benefit is unified metrics and reporting. An integrated online payment system allows your team to review transactions, AR aging, and balance sheets anytime.
Integration links between practice management, billing and payments do a better job of managing alternative fee arrangements and trust accounting, while also ensuring that they comply with attorneys’ fiduciary duties. General accounting tools are not designed to support the mandatory requirements for handling client funds held in trust accounts or deposited in operating accounts. Violating these requirements, even inadvertently, can jeopardize the ability to practice law.
Improved Firm Management
When practice management and payments work together, client and case files are clearly organized and up to date, and billing is a breeze, with payment processes built into overall case management workflows. This means that an entire matter is handled in one place, from intake to billing to reconciliation of your firm’s ledgers and financial reports.
Compliance with e-Billing (LEDES) Requirements
Business clients often adopt the LEDES standard—an acronym for the Legal Electronic Data Exchange Standard created in 1995 to systematize electronic exchange of billing and other information between corporations and law firms.
Complying with legal e-billing standards such as LEDES provides transparency for every line item that law firms bill with corresponding e-billing codes. LEDES-compliant billing, tailored to the firm and clients’ wishes, will speed through the client’s AP approval process and ensure timely payment.
Rapid Client Acceptance
Legal consumers, like the rest of us, prefer to pay via electronic means. Law firms that delay offering e-payment options to their clients are well behind the times, while firms that are not using proprietary, in-system payment tools are sacrificing efficiency.
Attorneys want to spend their time practicing law, not handling paperwork, preparing invoices and chasing down payments. An all-in-one system that combines practice management, accounting and automated payments allows them to do just that. You will be freed to focus on serving clients and remaining competitive, rather than toiling away to complete administrative tasks. Practice management that includes automated payments enables your firm to enhance client satisfaction, get paid faster, speed up cash flow and increase overall profitability.