Five Free Tools for Attorneys to Create Better Client Invoices

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By Billy Skinner, Esq.

In general, as attorneys there are certain things we’re good at, and certain things that, as a general rule, we struggle with. When it comes to crafting a creative argument, reading a jury, or responding to a curveball thrown at us by opposing counsel, most of us are in great shape.

But when it comes to managing basic business tasks, particularly mundane ones like invoicing clients and following up on accounts receivable, we’re usually less than stellar.

Thankfully, there are a growing number of free tools that attorneys can use to streamline and automate some of these mundane tasks such as client invoicing.  In this article we’ll discuss five free tools to make client invoices faster and easier than ever before.

Just a quick disclaimer before we get started, it should be noted that nearly all of the free tools for attorneys to create better client invoices offer free invoice templates only. These templates mean there’s a consistency and a sleek template that translates well for clients, but they don’t address the need for record keeping.

To complete the loop on invoicing, it’s important to also maintain proper records, which means attorneys must backup the invoices on a cloud service or hard drive (or both). This ensures the team has access to invoices with or without Internet access.

You never know when a breaker can blow or the Internet may be down for an extended period. Make it easy on your team by backing up invoices multiple ways.

And now, on to the free invoicing tools…

Free Invoicing Tools

  1. FreshInvoiceCreator – A free feature provided by FreshBooks, FreshInvoiceCreator gives attorneys a clean template for clients that is created on a cloud and can be stored on a computer or other cloud services. This means attorneys can take advantage of a cloud service they already pay for and still use this template. Remember Amazon Prime members get 5GB of storage and every Gmail account comes with 15 GB of free cloud storage on Drive.
  2. PayDirt – This clever free invoice template is user-friendly and can be used an unlimited number of times, as long as you store elsewhere. It’s no-frills and best for clean cut cases where there’s one lump sum or a monthly retainer.
  3. Aynax – This free invoicing tool gives you the ability to customize each invoice at no cost. Aynax is a must for attorneys doing business with clients in other countries since you can customize currency with this free invoicing tool.
  4. Billable – This is the most user-friendly of all of the incredibly easy free invoicing tools featured here. Billable lets you save to a PDF so you can send it to the invoice without converting the file. For teams managing multiple clients, this saves time and keeps things streamlined.
  5. Hiveage – Yes, we saved the best for last. Hiveage does everything the standard free invoicing tool does, but with additional features beneficial for any small business. Hiveage offers unlimited invoicing and has sleek interface that will get you excited for menial accounting.

Bonus free tool to integrate with invoicing services: Toggl – This is probably our favorite free tool on this list because it gives you what a lot of the other guys charge for. Toggl gives you the ability to track time efficiently and integrates with other free client invoice services (like those listed above). Overall, Toggl is one of the top-rated free tools for attorneys managing with teams of five or less.

Important Considerations on How To Use These Free Invoicing Tools

Now that you have the ability to set up an invoicing template via these free tools, the next question is how you should format your client invoices. Below are a few additional considerations:

Itemized Invoices Matter

It is common to bill clients with one lump sum, but itemized invoices are unquestionably worth the time and effort required to create them. Why? An itemized invoice gives the client peace of mind and gives them a clear understanding of how time was spent working on their case.

A simple itemized list of services rendered is easy for the client to read on their own and reduces phone calls or emails to the attorney to ask questions about cost breakdown. If there’s a problem with a fee on the itemized list, the client has a simple way to try and rectify the situation with the attorney.

With a lump sum balance this is difficult and usually results in many questions and back and forth emails with the attorney’s office and the client.

Transparency Minimizes Client Fee Disputes

Some attorneys will be tempted to eliminate detail in their invoices so as to avoid creating additional client questions. However, this is a short-sighted approach. A detailed and well-crafted client invoice reduces the number of fee disputes.

Fee disputes can be a cumbersome hassle for a law firm of any size and also can cause long-term reputational harm to the attorney because they go to the professional judgment of the attorney at the root of the fee dispute.

Too many fee disputes can disrupt businesses as usual and in some cases can cause a firm to terminate an attorney.

Fee disputes make up the majority of malpractice lawsuits in the U.S. according to the American Bar Association.

A fee dispute usually happens when the client does not believe they are responsible for the fee stated on their invoice. There are various reasons a client chooses to open a fee dispute and luckily, most matters can be sorted with a phone call or email.

The beauty of itemized invoices is the lawyer lowers the probability of having a client come back with a fee dispute after the case is done. When the client immediately understands their charges, they are more likely to feel confident in services rendered and pay the bill in a timely manner.

Implementing itemized invoices in a firm which has traditionally just provided a lump sum bill is difficult because it requires the attorneys and paralegals to track time or tasks in a more accurate way than they probably otherwise had been doing.

However, the change can yield big results in terms of reducing fee disputes and prompting clients to pay their balance soon after they receive their bill.

Any Changes Should be Promptly Disclosed

Cost structures and hourly billing rates change over time, and as a business you have a right to pass those increased costs on to your clients. However, to the extent possible, you should refrain from applying any new fee structures to an existing client.

If the firm decides on updated fees for the same services, it is the in the attorney’s best interest to use all fees originally provided to the client. Attempting to switch fees for the same services mid-case can lead to a fee dispute and looks unprofessional.

To the extent that changes must be made with an existing client, make sure to have a written agreement for any new services or fee structures. If there are services added mid-case, create a separate document so the client can agree to those new terms.

The last thing any attorney wants is to add other services onto a client’s bill only for the client to claim they do not understand or assumed the new service was included in the original quote.

Reduce confusion by creating a new document and go over this agreement with the client prior to signing. This gives them the opportunity to ask any questions before they commit.

Regular Billing Reduces Friction

Bill the client on a monthly basis. For ongoing cases, it is best to bill the client monthly to prevent a large balance from accumulating. This also prevents any surprises for the client and gives them a timely structure to pay their bill.

Review the bill thoroughly before the client sees it. The attorney working with the client should be the one to go over billing with a fine-tooth comb before the client sees it.

This allows the lawyer to catch any problems or clarify billing in a way they know the client will understand. This is a task that takes only a few minutes and can wind up saving you hours of correspondence with the client should they have a question about their bill.

Keep the Client Informed About Work Performed

Clients are always thrilled to hire you on the front end of a case, but invariably by the end believe that you’ve done insufficient work to merit your full payment.

In part, that’s just human nature. But you can alleviate the problem by ensuring that the client is aware throughout the case of the activities you have performed on their behalf. One creative way to do this is to attach copies of work product to the invoice. This will minimize issues such as with a client questioning how time was spent on the case or task.

Conclusion

Itemized invoices are making it easier than ever for attorneys to collect their fees in a timely manner, and if properly constructed can help attorneys reduce client complaints and improve collections.

The five free tools for attorneys to create better client invoices presented in this article can enable attorneys working at any level to provide thorough and consistent client invoices, which can mean fewer fee disputes and less time spent explaining fees to clients.

About the Author

billy-skinner-full

Billy Skinner is an experienced criminal defense attorney, whose primary focus is defending clients that have been wrongfully accused of sex crimes in Texas. Follow Billy on Facebook and Twitter.

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