States | 7 min
June 17, 2021
Lawyers' well-being in Massachusetts continues to gain attention.
On June 4, 2021, after a year of distributed working environments, the Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being at the Supreme Judicial Court recommended that law firms continue to offer flexible schedules.
On May 12, 2021, just after Massachusetts’s “Well-Being Week in Law”, mental health researchers Justin Anker and Patrick R. Krill concluded that “one-quarter of all women contemplated leaving the profession due to mental health concerns.” Among other things, they found that traditional fixtures of legal culture like long hours, overwork, and traditional legal “business models” also contributed.
This is an unfortunate statistic, but it is not new. In 2001, the ABA’s Commission on the Billable Hour Report already described the “corrosive impact” of emphasizing billable hours, and this isn’t the first time Krill’s work is receiving due attention.
In 2017, the ABA’s Professional Responsibility Taskforce responded, making its formal recommendations on lawyers’ well-being.
In September 2018, Krill’s wave hit the Commonwealth, and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court formed the Steering Committee on Lawyer Well-Being.
In July 2019, the Steering Committee submitted its report.
Importantly, in one way or another, each study and report addresses long hours and/or legal billing structures. The 2019 Massachusetts Steering Committee report and the ABA’s 2020 TechReport both suggest that billing technology and legal operations play a role in improving lawyers’ well-being and law firm cashflow.
So it would seem that how you bill—not just how much you bill—matters.
If I’m getting paid, what does it matter how I bill or structure my fees? Money = good, so why fix what ain’t broke?
Well, even before considering the amount, how professionals bill for services will affect who can pay for those services. Law firms are no different. For example:
Hourly Billing Hourly billing emphasizes the value of time and the type of work clients buy. Clients agree to the cost of each hour, lawyers and paralegals track their time, and monthly invoices are sent. This fee type serves clients who need services, and can keep paying as long as it takes. Not all clients will have the savings or income to pay these ongoing monthly invoices.
Flat / Fixed Fee Agreements Flat and/or fixed fees emphasize price certainty and the end result. For this reason, flat fee agreements are common in transactional practice areas where a certain document is delivered or a defined transaction is completed. This fee type accommodates clients with real legal needs and realistic budgets, but such lump sums, however certain, could still exceed what modest financial means can afford.
Subscription-based legal services Subscription-based legal services emphasize access to legal services. These rates succeed to the extent that the firm understands its clients’ needs and its own processes. Firm costs, price, and utilization rates must be perfectly aligned. These fees are often perfect for clients needing lower monthly rates (think Netflix) or for matters requiring legal maintenance (like ongoing estate plan asset alignment or business administration matters). Law firms like subscription-based legal services because it provides monthly recurring revenue that can stabilize income. Clients like these plans because they can be make legal services as affordable as other services they’re used to buying.
The examples really are endless, especially because clients often need a combination of these fee types, like an hourly rate with a matter fee cap. In theory, this provides clients a close, minute-by-minute accounting of their return on investment, while also providing flatter, certain pricing.
How you bill affects how clients access your services, but it also affects how you practice law.
If you bill hourly, you are familiar with what United State Supreme Court Associate Justice Steven G. Breyer calls the “treadmill,” or “the continuous push to increase billable hours.” Massachusetts’s Steering Committee on Lawyer Well-Being pushed for firms to cap hourly requirements at 1,800 hours per year, but some area firms still require more and more. Even so, 1,800 hours a year is still more than 11 hours a day, 5 days a week for 48 weeks. 
Even if you offer flat, fixed, and subscription-based legal services for recurring monthly revenue, tracking time still provides a way to assess productivity across your firm.
When your professional life is determined by the hours you bill, it is very important to bill in the right way. You are the habits you create, and technology can help you create good habits. Or not.
This is why it is very, very important to have the right technology so you accurately track your time and bill clients the way they expect.
All billing starts with timekeeping, and timekeeping is about accuracy. Accuracy ensures you are not working the same hour twice. Capturing time you previously lost is the same as billing more. Billing more hours in the same amount of time means you create a better margin for your personal life to support your overall well-being.
I recently interviewed a few dozen law firm owners across various U.S. jurisdictions, and I heard a common refrain:
Before using the LEAP timekeeping and billing software, I was losing time because I estimated my time incorrectly.
Now, LEAP automatically tracks their time, prompts them to enter it right when they finish billable tasks, and timekeeping features in LEAP follow them wherever they are working, on computers, iPhone, iPad and Android mobile devices, or even using handsfree devices like Apple Watch and Amazon Alexa.
You know what you do when you do it. The longer you wait to document a billable task, the more inaccurate your entry will be. Entering time as you go means bills are more accurate, and, at the end of the month, bills are also ready to send. You do not wait weeks for fee earners to manually enter time. No. You run pre-bills, make tweaks, and send invoices quickly.
The sooner bills go out, the sooner they can be paid.
If your timekeeping is not built into a cloud legal practice management software allowing you to work from anywhere, at any time, then you are likely still fumbling with legal pads and spreadsheets and only entering your time at the end of the month. This means you are wasting administrative time on a task that an affordable piece of software could handle for you, and your cashflow is slower.
Better billing starts with accurate and integrated timekeeping, but better billing also meets clients’ expectations.
Your clients do life online, just like you.
We use apps to shop, make calls, text, order take out and food delivery, sign-up for activities, schedule services, pay bills, deposit checks, and track retirement and investment accounts. Companies even reward customers for choosing paperless billing and paying online.
The 2020 ABA Tech Report agrees:
75% prefer paying with credit or debit cards
79% use paperless billing options
55% “don’t use or rarely carry” checks, and 61% of 18-24 year olds “never” use checks
79% expect every business to offer “the same payment options as large national companies”
While larger law firms might be able to develop pricy, bespoke software solutions, solo and smaller law firms remain competitive by relying on affordable technology to provide the services their clients expect.
When you are ready to bill, you do not want to wait to get paid. Since all profit is calculated in time, getting paid faster is the same as getting paid more. Plus, when you send bills electronically, you save on overhead costs.
With LEAP, click to create prebills and invoices, then email invoices to clients. This avoids these manual billing process expenses:
Employee time spent creating, printing, and stuffing invoices
Postage and stationary costs
Time delay while your invoice travels to your client
Then, when clients pay online with FeeWise, they pay for your services the way they are used to paying for every other service in their lives, and their payment automatically appears in LEAP. This means you avoid these additional steps in a manual payment process:
Time delay while your client’s check travels to your law firm
Employee time opening checks
Employee time manually reconciling checks
Employee time, mileage, and parking expenses to take deposits to the bank
When you have everything you need in a single system, you do not spend time moving information between programs. This means you spend more time doing income-producing work, rather than administrative tasks.
In Massachusetts, lawyers take care of their businesses by taking care of people, including themselves.
When you use LEAP, you simplify your law firm’s IT infrastructure, reduce overhead costs, and enable your law firm to work from anywhere, at any time. This provides the flexibility lawyers and paralegals expect, and contributes to an overall sense of autonomy and control over how work fits alongside other priorities in their lives.
When you can track time, send electronic bills, and receive online payments from one, cloud-based software, you spend more time practicing law, less time managing your practice, and you give clients the payment options they expect.
You can also easily perform complex transactions with built-in office and trust accounting. IOLTA and state bar rule compliant trust accounting is made easy with LEAP. Attorneys can instantly generate invoices, manage retainers and trust accounts, capture disbursements, and integrate their LEAP office accounting and billing with FeeWise, Xero, and QuickBooks Online.
 1,800 hours a year equates to approximately 11.25 hours per day, 5 days per week, 48 weeks per year when calculated with an efficiency rate of 2 billed hours for every 3 hours worked and 4 weeks paid time off. Calculation: Hours worked:3.00; Hours billed:2.00; Efficiency Rate:0.6667; Billable Hours Requirement (BHR):1,800; Divided by Efficiency Rate (estimated real hours worked to get BHR): 2,700; Divided by 48 weeks (52-4 weeks paid time off) = hours / week: 56.25; Divided by 5 days = hours / work day: 11.25.
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