Litify Blog

How Legal Time & Billing Solutions Have Evolved — AKA The Best Way to Make Shish Kabobs

by: Rhonda Compher

June 1, 2022

Have you ever thought about how shish kabobs are constructed? Back in the 80’s when I first saw them, there was a skewer, with a lovely array of meat, and four or so vegetables, all side by side on the same skewer, often in the same sequence multiple times. But once they’re all cooked, the steak is overcooked, onion undercooked, and half your peppers disintegrated.

I could compare this to some of those original legal accounting solutions. Products like CMS, Barrister, and Elite for Windows were the foundations of legal accounting tools. They got the job done, but that job could only be done one way — just as I thought there was only this one way of making shish kabobs. The timekeepers entered time and the biller could only adjust amounts and narratives, which created a nice bill to send to a client. There was no historical record of what was being done, rates were only hourly, and the systems didn’t account for any alternative fee arrangements, such as retainers, flat fees, or multiple payers. There were often work arounds, like typing out a final bill if the amount was different than what the attorney wanted to bill — but of course those work arounds created reporting and tracking issues since your system and client statement of record doesn’t match.

These original tools were designed to process a time/cost entry or bill in a single way, and as the clients became more complex, so did the work arounds — not so much the tools. Like the aforementioned shish kabob, we had expectations as to what a time and billing solution would look like, and what it needed to be functional. Flash forward to this past weekend, when I was at a friend’s house (Nancy) and shish kabobs were on the menu. I offered to assist her while prepping dinner, and she told me not to mix all the ingredients together on a single skewer. Of course not — because all these foods have a different cooking time and temperature. If you cook them on the same skewer everything tastes bad.

This reminded me of solutions like Enterprise, Rainmaker, Perfect Law, Aderant Expert, Juris, and even 3E. All these tools allowed firms to get very specific in their billing, and though it was cumbersome to set up and support, they enabled group billing, flat fee billing, and multi-payer billing. This next generation of time and billing solutions also enabled the ability to move time and costs around to matters, and introduced global features such as currency and tax. However, native reporting was still terrible, so reporting was often supplemented with very manual efforts. And this is where my career in legal accounting began!

I started as a Accounts Payable and General Ledger Trainer at Elite (Thomson Reuters) in 2006. I was training both internal resources and clients on the 3E solution. I already had ten years of accounting experience in oil and gas accounting, using SAP, and was booking and accountable for $125 million a month in revenue on my desk. When I moved to legal, the dollars (pounds, yen, and euros if you will) never intimidated me — however, the accounting was very different. The need for multiple books, revenue recognitions, and a segmented chart representative of matter and timekeeper locations is very niche to legal. Throughout my time at Elite, I evolved from software trainer to Sales Engineer to Product Manager. My team and I were responsible for a lot of the back office modules in 3E, and for six years I managed a large Application Consulting team implementing the 3E product across North America.

I was fortunate enough to be mentored by some of the most notable people in legal software, billing, and accounting, and to work with many of the firms we see on the AM200 today. They were old school, the OG’s, and brilliant minds, and I am ever grateful for the devil in the detail and exacting lessons I received from my clients, peers, and now friends. This era also brought a bevy of solution partners into the mix, allowing these legal accounting solutions to be 80% complete when released, and then a partner would build the bridge for the rest. A whole supply chain of people who implemented time and billing solutions for law firms to say, “don’t put all the vegetables on one skewer.” Thanks, Nancy, for the expert advice.

As I was building our “new-age” shish kabobs, Nancy asked me about Litify, and the time and billing solution my team and I are continuously iterating on for our clients. I told her that I’m once again working with brilliant minds and industry game changers. My team builds fast and beautiful solutions, but it can be a challenge building a product that competes feature to feature with solutions that have existed for twenty plus years. My team takes a use case, knowing what the end result needs to be, researches how a firm does it today in their current solution, and then they approach it almost the exact opposite way (haha!). To continue our shish kabob metaphor, we came from the era of picking up each vegetable individually and putting the skewer through it. Today, my team looks into the bowl, sees all the zucchini, and uses the skewer to quickly or automatically stab all the zucchini onto the skewer — then you’re only left with a few hidden ones to manually add.

At Litify, our time and billing solution enables firms to easily achieve their robust billing needs, from flat fees to rates by activity, and mass billing. They can create and submit e-bills using paperless billing workflows. In addition, we offer next-level analysis and controls with billing rules that actually carry with the life of the time or cost cards through the billing. There are matter budgets where the budget to the actual spend is easily visualized and set up on the matter. The list goes on and on, but then you couple it all with the rest of Litify’s legal operations platform so that a firm can now tie end-to-end activities with a value — and we do it far more efficiently, with fewer clicks. Think of it as profitability by phrase or tasks, and we’re just at the beginning of our functional journey, not the end. Our platform is cloud-based and built with Salesforce as the foundation, so the extensibility and reporting capabilities are endless. It’s truly the future of legal billing. As for our shish kabobs, they were perfect — like a fine-tuned solution on a powerful framework and application positioning me for the next forty years of kabobing.

Litify Time & Billing is here! Want to help your firm capture more time and increase bill realization? Learn more and request a demo here.

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