Timekeeping and Billing Software Buyers Guide

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For many lawyers, timekeeping and billing are still central practice-management functions. And even though I am using the word timekeeping in this post, timekeeping and billing software for lawyers ought to support flat, contingent, and other alternatives to hourly billing. (I’m not aware of flat-fee software or alternative-fee software, so I will still use timekeeping and billing software in this post.)

Why lump timekeeping and billing together? Because they are a natural pair. For one thing, sometimes timekeeping is billing, as in the case of flat fees. But also in the case of advance-fee retainers. Your timekeeping software should help you keep track of your client’s retainer balance, and the way to do that is to include billing.

So with those preliminaries out of the way, here are the pros and cons of the most popular timekeeping and billing software for lawyers.

Timekeeping and Billing Software Comparison Chart

Here is a quick overview of the primary features of the timekeeping and billing software options selected for this article.

 Cloud-BasedWindows-OnlyDesktop AppiOS AppAndroid AppWeb App
Bill4Time????
Chrometa????
eBillity?????
FreshBooks????
Harvest????
QuickBooks?????
Time59??
Tabs3???
TimeSlips??
TimeSolv?????
Toggl?????

Features to Consider

Cloud-based. If you find yourself resisting moving to the cloud, just stop it. You are being ridiculous. There’s nothing wrong with cloud-based software, and there is a lot right with it. For starters, if you have more than one biller at your firm, moving to the cloud means you can have everyone billing on the same system without getting and maintaining your own server.

You can, of course, use almost any software in the cloud if you use a desktop-as-a-service product like Abacus Private Cloud. This can be a good step for firms committed to legacy, Windows-only software.

Windows-only. More and more lawyers are using Macs, and even though Windows PCs are still dominant in law offices, many lawyers have Macs they want to be able to use when they are working from home or on the road. If you are committed to Windows, you can use the venerable Tabs3 or TimeSlips. If you want maximum flexibility, look to the cloud or investigate desktop-as-a-service options.

Desktop app. Although more and more software is browser-based, there are some holdouts. The Windows-only software has desktop apps, of course, since that is the primary interface. QuickBooks is available as a desktop app if you don’t want to pay a monthly fee and don’t need apps. TimeSolv offers a desktop timer app, but the primary interface is browser-based.

iOS, Android, and Web Apps. Most people expect to be able to use their software from their phone and tablet, and native mobile apps (as well as mobile-responsive websites) are now a standard component of most cloud-based timekeeping and billing software. Time59 relies on a mobile-responsive web app or, and Tabs3 Connect is a private server–based web app. Native iOS and Android apps are superior options, but web apps can get the job done.

All but one of the cloud-based options includes apps for both platforms. The exception is Time59, which has a mobile-responsive interface you can use from your phone or tablet’s browser.

The traditional, Windows-only options, Tabs3 and TimeSlips, do not have apps. If you use a server-based install of Tabs3, however, you can use Tabs3 Connect to log into Tabs3 remotely as long as you are online. Tabs3 Connect is basically a web app but hosted on your own server.

And while QuickBooks Online has mobile apps for both iOS and Android, you will have to subscribe to QuickBooks Online in order to use them.

Pros and Cons

(Note, these are listed in alphabetical order, not from best to worst or anything like that.)

Bill4Time

Pros. Bill4Time offers robust timekeeping built for professionals. In addition to standard timekeeping, it offers features like batch time entry, granular user permissions, and advanced reporting. Plus, Bill4Time caters specifically to lawyers; some of its features are clearly meant to differentiate it from more general-purpose timekeeping and billing software like FreshBooks and Harvest. It even has some basic case management features you might find useful if you aren’t using practice-management software already.

Bill4Time offers a unique, solo-friendly pricing tier. Instead of offering discounts only to larger firms, the Legal Solo plan starts at $30/month, and the second biller costs just $20/month. For larger firms, Bill4Time is a still-reasonable $50/month, and $20/month for each additional biller. Firms that want additional flexibility (custom fields and reports) and premium support can get it for $100/month plus $25/month for each additional biller.

Cons. Several reviewers (JurisPage, for example) cite the one-way QuickBooks integration as a negative. And Bill4Time has very few integrations. You might not be able to connect your other software to Bill4Time in the way you might want to. Also, note that there is no free pricing tier, just a 30-day free trial. If you only need to track time for two or three matters, you are probably better off taking advantage of a free FreshBooks or Harvest account.

Summary. If you have outgrown FreshBooks or Harvest, try Bill4Time. It has more features but doesn’t cost much more. If Bill4Time is still too limiting, try moving up to TimeSolv.

Chrometa

Pros. Chrometa keeps track of what you are doing while you are using your computer, tablet, and phone. It does this by tracking the active processes. For example, if you are editing the file 2015-11-17 Pl's 1st Set of Disco Resps.docx in Word, it will show up in Chrometa with the length of time you spent working on that document. You can automatically attribute tasks to clients based on several characteristics, and collect your time when you are ready to build your timesheet. You can also use Chrometa to track your time spent away from your computer. When you return to your computer after it has been idle, Chrometa will ask you to make a note of what you were doing while you were away.

Chrometa also integrates with Basecamp, Clio, FreshBooks, PC Law, QuickBooks, Rocket Matter, Sage Timeslips, Xero, and can export time entries to an Excel spreadsheets or CSV. That makes it easy to use Chrometa to create time entries in whatever you use for sending your bills.

Cons. While the other software on this list mostly includes billing features, Chrometa just tracks your time. You’ll need something else to turn your timesheets into bills.

Summary. No matter what else you use for timekeeping, you should get Chrometa. This is one timekeeping app that truly will pay for itself (Chrometa starts at $12/month for a single user).

eBillity

Pros. eBillity is specifically targeted at lawyers. In addition to the basic package, that means you can add on features like ABA billing codes, LEDES invoicing, and realization reports. There are mobile apps for iOS and Android, and even an Outlook add-in and desktop app (for Windows and Mac).

eBility syncs with QuickBooks, the accounting software most lawyers still use. It also syncs with Xero, which more and more lawyers are starting to use (with good reason).

At just $10/month for the basic eBillity software, plus $4/month for additional users, eBillity’s pricing is attractive. However, there are some caveats.

Cons. While the base pricing for eBillity is attractive, billing is another $10/month add-on. So are the legal-specific features like LEDES invoicing and realization reports. QuickBooks or Xero sync are another $6/month. So by the time you get everything you need, you might be feeling a bit nickeled-and-dimed. Still, eBillity ends up being competitive on price.

So far, the only online payment with which eBillity integrates is PayPal. That is a simple solution, but it means you may not be able to accept credit cards using your existing service without figuring out a workaround.

Also, apart from exporting to your accounting software (as long as you use QuickBooks or Xero), there isn’t much in the way of integration options. eBillity only offers two other integrations: Gusto (payroll, benefits, and workers compensation management) and Concur (expense reporting).

Summary. eBillity is only two years old, but it looks like it is worth a try if you can be patient while it gets developed further. Try it alongside FreshBooks, Harvest, or Bill4Time to get a sense for what eBillity might lack — or what is has that the others may lack.

FreshBooks

Pros. FreshBooks is really easy to use. You can start tracking time moments after setting up your (free) account. It also integrates with many common credit-card processors and supports eCheck/ACH payments for just 50¢ per transaction (Harvest offers this, too). If you aren’t familiar with the merchant fees associated with accepting payments, trust me: this is a great deal.

Cons. FreshBooks annoyingly calls itself “cloud accounting” software, and it’s just not. Not even close. The idea that you can do bookkeeping in FreshBooks is, quite honestly, laughable.

Summary. If you are a solo and you just want something simple (and, potentially, free if your needs are small), give FreshBooks a try.

Harvest

Pros. Like FreshBooks, Harvest is simple, easy-to-use cloud software for timekeeping and billing. And like FreshBooks, it offers the option to accept eCheck/ACH payments for just 50¢ each.

Harvest is a better deal than FreshBooks, though. For just $12/month, you get unlimited clients and matters. While it’s true that FreshBooks ostensibly offers more features, those extra features aren’t that useful and you probably won’t miss them.

Plus, Harvest seems to support more integrations. There’s an app that lets you start and stop the timer from Slack, for example, as well as multiple options for accepting payments.

Cons. Some parts of the Harvest user experience are lacking. Holden reports that contact management is not intuitive, and managing your timekeeping matters can easily get overwhelming since there is just one big list to sort through.

Summary. If you just want simple, cloud-based timekeeping and billing, Harvest is probably the best deal out there. And unlike FreshBooks, it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.

QuickBooks

Pros. You are already using QuickBooks for bookkeeping and accounting. It’s kind of convenient to have everything in one place. Plus, using QuickBooks means you don’t have to duplicate effort, like copying over invoices and trust account transactions. And if you are a one-biller solo practice, you can probably use QuickBooks for timekeeping just fine.

Cons. On the other hand, there is a very good reason for the robust selection of timekeeping software out there: QuickBooks is pretty terrible for timekeeping. Most of the people who use QuickBooks would rather use something else for timekeeping. So, probably, should you.

Summary. QuickBooks is tolerable for timekeeping if you are a true solo, have modest needs, and only need to keep track of your own time. Otherwise, try something else.

Time59

Pros. Time59 has been doing basic practice management, timekeeping, and billing, for a long time, and it is a great option for small practices with modest needs.

Cons. Unfortunately, there are no iOS or Android apps for Time59, and it really is best-suited to small practices with modest needs. If you grow, you will probably outgrow Time59.

Summary. If you want something simple and easy-to-use that is more law-firm-focused than FreshBooks and Harvest, and you are willing to do without native mobile apps, give Time59 a try.

Tabs3

Pros. Due to its maturity, Tabs3 is quite robust. You can use it for timekeeping, billing, and, with add-on modules, as a complete accounting solution including trust accounting. And like most non-cloud software, Tabs3 can be customized to your firm’s specific needs. You can plug Tabs3 into PracticeMaster for a complete practice-management solution.

Tabs3 also gets bonus points for its tech support and longevity (the company has been around for 30+ years). Sure, it’s dated, but Tabs3 seems to have very happy users. It’s hard to find anything negative, despite the Windows 3.11–throwback software design.

Cons. If you want to be able to use Tabs3 from your phone or tablet, you can use Tabs3 Connect, which is a web interface for your server. It has limited functionality and it is not a true mobile app. If you are used to the convenience of the cloud, you will probably be disappointed by Tabs3.

Also, that customizability comes at a cost: if you want to do it, you will have to learn how or hire a consultant.

Summary. If you are looking for traditional timekeeping and billing software, Tabs3 is a logical choice.

TimeSlips

Pros. To be perfectly frank, the only reason to use TimeSlips is that you are already using it.

Cons. TimeSlips is old-school in every way. It’s huge. You’ll need your own server to use it with more than one person. And you will probably need a consultant. On retainer. Nothing about it is intuitive and it looks like it was designed for Windows 3.11. In the era of cloud software, it’s pretty hard to justify that. It also looks like it was built for

Summary. If you are already using TimeSlips, you might as well keep using it until your server dies. If you aren’t using it, you probably shouldn’t dive into an outdated software model.

TimeSolv

Pros. TimeSolv is the most sophisticated cloud-based timekeeping and billing software on this list. If you need to run reports on realization or profitability according to the originating lawyer (or lawyers), TimeSolv can do it easily. You’ll have trouble getting that sort of information out of FreshBooks or Harvest.

Cons. While TimeSolv has a desktop app, which is pretty unique for cloud-based timekeeping software, the desktop app is very dated, and badly in need of an update.

Summary. If you need more than basic timekeeping and billing, TimeSolv is probably the best fit. And if you already use local or server-based software like Tabs3 or TimeSlips, TimeSolv is the logical choice for moving to the cloud.

Toggl

Pros. With unlimited projects (read: cases/matters) and up to 5 users, Toggl‘s free tier may be all you ever need, as long as your needs are simple. Toggle also has a Windows desktop app and integrates with a huge list of tools you may already be using. And at just $5/user if you do need or want to upgrade to the Pro pricing tier, it is cheap.

Cons. Unlike most of the software on this list, Toggle doesn’t do billing — although it does integrate with QuickBooks and Xero (and some other accounting software) so you can send bills from there.

Summary. If you just want a simple and free/cheap timekeeping solution, Toggle is a great choice.

Your Practice-Management Software

Pros. You are already using it. Look, if it works, just use it. While there are good reasons to use dedicated timekeeping and billing software, the cost of subscribing to a bunch of different things can add up fast. Plus, even if dedicated timekeeping and billing software integrates with your practice-management software, there are probably extra steps involved that nibble away at your time.

You can avoid all that by just using what you have.

Cons. Like anything all-in-one, the timekeeping and billing functions of your practice-management software probably aren’t as full-featured as you can find in dedicated timekeeping and billing software. There are tradeoffs. In exchange for a simpler overall experience (i.e., you only have to use one thing), you lose some functionality. Those tradeoffs might not be worth it for your practice.

Summary. If you are already using practice-management software that handles timekeeping and billing and it meets your needs, you might as well keep using it. If it doesn’t meet your timekeeping and billing needs, you probably have the wrong practice-management software.

Featured image: “Time, Savings, Time is Money. ” from Shutterstock.

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  • Dan McCarthy

    Where does Clio factor into this? That is what I currently use. It is great. But frankly part of the appeal includes many features that I simply do not need or use. I primarily want something for time keeping and invoicing. I am thinking about switching to bill4time for the savings. Thoughts?

  • randybsinger

    If you are using a Macintosh, you aren’t limited to cloud-based time and billing programs. There is a very long list of time and billing programs for the Macintosh here:

    List of Time And Billing Software
    http://www.macattorney.com/timebillacnt.html