Clients hate surprises. This is especially true when it comes to your bill. The solution is to have an ongoing conversation with your clients about costs. For some reason, though, a lot of lawyers have a hard time talking to clients about money. This means invoices are often the only communication happening, which is more like delivering bad news once a month.

Instead of, you know, talking to your clients, Viewabill proposes “disrupt billable hours” (FastCo’s words) by sharing your time entries with your clients as you make them. It is as likely to disrupt billable hours as you are likely to start working for free, but it is an interesting concept — with some big hurdles to clear.

The biggest problem for Viewabill, I think, is that it only works if you enter time every day, or at least a couple of times a week. Otherwise, your clients will not see your time “as you bill.”

Many lawyers take notes of their time on paper and only enter it into their timekeeping system once a month, or sometimes even less-frequently. Maybe that is bad practice, but lawyers change their habits slowly, if at all. When it comes to law practice, the idea of disruptive innovation in law is mostly just wishful thinking.

Viewabill also assumes that clients want this kind of granular access to your time records. While I am sure most clients would like to be able to control costs, as an abstract concept, I am not sure that means they want to see everything you are doing, as you are doing it.

Finally, Freshbooks already does this. You can share your timekeeping records with clients by clicking a checkbox. Harvest probably does, too. Viewabill does only one thing, and whether or not it does it well, I am not sure anyone will want to spend more money on a duplicative service.

None of this means Viewabill will fail. Maybe I am totally wrong and both clients and lawyers have just been waiting for an easier way to talk about billing.

For those interested, by the way, I asked Viewabill what timekeeping software it works with. Here’s the answer I received:

Freshbooks, Clio, Quickbooks Online, Harvest are the current platforms and we are always adding more. We are also integrated with firm databases and time entries from Aderant, Prolaw and Elite.

That’s a pretty impressive start — more than I expected, actually.

If you want to try this out with your clients now, and you use Freshbooks, just edit any project and check the box next to Client can see summaries of dates worked and tasks logged. I don’t think they will get as much information as they would from Viewabill, but they will certainly get enough to sound the alarm if they think you are out of control. (via The Trial Warrior Blog)

P.S., Alan Dershowitz is a co-founder, if that wasn’t clear. This seems in no way relevant to anything else about the software.