[Product Review] Freshbooks

Disclaimer: I use FreshBooks. A lot.1 Based on my use, these are my opinions and this is my endorsement.  While I’d like for you to sign up using my affiliate page (at not cost to you!), I’d like even more if you trusted my recommendation to go check it out.

Freshbooks proclaims on its website that it’s:

Then it goes on to say, “Send, track and collect payments quickly. Great for teams, freelancers and service providers.”

Why law firms, specifically, should use it.

Not only are lawyers service providers, they are the quintessential example of service providers who bill by the hour.2 Moreover, the majority of law firms that bill by the hour use time-tracking methods that are either a) expensive or b) outdated (think: pen & scrap paper).  Government agencies, nonprofit groups, or firms that have alternative fee structures in place or get paid under contingency agreements, may not have any defined time-tracking methods in place, however helpful they may be.  Regardless of howmost firms and legal agencies use billing software that is expensive at the outset and more expensive to maintain.

Freshbooks offers an easy, web-based solution to complete a firm’s time-tracking and billing – it even prints out or e-mails professional-looking invoices! – at a relatively low cost.  (There are different pricing plans based on how many users have access and how many clients the user would like to manage.)

How does it work?

A firm creates an account with a secure login page (e.g. yourfirm.freshbooks.com).   Once signed in, the account administrator may add employees, contractors, clients, and projects to keep track of time, estimates, invoices, and billing.   The administrator may designate whether certain activities are billed at an hourly rate, a project rate, and/or if they’re non-billable.  The administrator may also controls each user’s access and determines what information each user is able to view or edit.

Users can access the account from any web-browser via the secure login page.

Lawyers can sign in to track their time and then assign their time to different projects or different tasks within projects.   Firm clients can sign in to view the status of their accounts.

Whenever a lawyer works on a client’s project, s/he can choose to track their time with Freshbook’s timer.  This timer pops up in a separate browsing window.  It features a “play” button and a “pause” button so users can start it and pause it as they work.  For any users with an iPhone, there’s also an app to track time.  A user also has the choice to enter time manually.  Because most lawyers juggle numerous projects at once, it’s easy to start the timer, do work for one client, stop the timer, and start over for the next client.

Time is logged and categorized by project and task.  In addition, time may be marked as billed or unbilled.  As soon as the time is entered and tagged, it automatically shows up on the corresponding invoice or estimate.  Users then have the option to send clients estimates and invoices via snail mail or e-mail.  Even if a firm bills at a flat-rate, lawyers and employees still may track their time for efficiency purposes.

My advice:  Jump In

While I’m sure you found my description riveting, it’s probably best to learn-by-doing.  With Freshbooks, you’ll probably want to see it in action to determine the benefits.  Of course, if you do sign up for it, feel free to use my affiliate link.

Further Reading:

1 I keep track of my time whenever I’m working on a project for a client even when I’m not billing by the hour. I also keep track of my time when I’m working on things that are not billable at all (e.g. pesky administrative things). I’m not OCD and but I am a professional. I keep track of my time – or, more accurately, how I spend my time – in order to stay productive and competitive. This way, When I offer a quote or estimate, my clients can feel confident that I’m working efficiently with their best interests in mind. So, again: I use FreshBooks. A lot.

2 Don’t believe me? Google search “billable hour” and look at the top five hits.

[Product Review] Central Desktop for Lawyers


Central Desktop

After playing around with Central Desktop, all I can say is, “WOW.”

Central Desktop allows users to create “workspaces.”  The number of workspaces and whether these workspaces are public or private (default) depends on your pricing plan.

While you can add features to each workspace later, when you first create a workspace, you can choose between setting it up as a project management, wiki, database, corporate blog, user forum, or create your own.  Because you can add each of these features to a workspace later, I’d recommend creating one based on the main purpose of the workspace.

And, now, to break down these features one-by-one…

A project management workspace allows you to “manage projects, organize tasks, milestones and track project statuses.”  Like Basecamp, LiquidPlanner, Wrike, and others, this type of workspace on Central Desktop allows teams to collaborate on projects across the web, keeping track of tasks, and milestones.  Users can assign tasks to other users and also designate the importance of tasks by clicking on the red, orange, or yellow bullet.  You can sort tasks by due date, assign them to different folders, and link them to a milestone on your calendar.

Although Central Desktop does not plan for all contingencies like LiquidPlanner, it does run reports for those who like to keep track of completed tasks, events, or workload.

Wiki

Central Desktop recommends using a wiki for a department or team intranets.  Wikis also serve as a solution for knowledge management. For me, someone who is rather tech-oriented, wikis and their purpose still seem foreign.

In spite of the news calling today’s work environment “The Wiki Workplace,” I had no idea how to create a wiki.  I found through stupid trial and error a few years ago that you can’t just go to wikipedia.org (oops!).  However, websites offering wiki platforms, then and now, do not seem to advertise as well as the blogging services such as Blogger, TypePad, MoveableType, or WordPress.

Since I started my search for tools to create a corporate wiki, I did find WetPaint. (Eds. note: Also, PBWiki!)  However, Central Desktop’s ease of use makes implementing a department wiki or organization wiki a cinch.

Moreover, with all of these features, the true benefit with Central Desktop is that everything is in one place.  You no longer have to go to one site to add to your wiki, one site to check your calendar, and one site to manage your projects.  It’s all in one place and it stays an affordable!

Database

This is by far my favorite feature of Central Desktop: the ability to complement project management with discussions AND supplement both by creating your own databases.  This solves many collaboration, knowledge management, activity management, planning issues for any organization – large or small.

Central Desktop states that the database as a workplace is “Ideal for managing customer and partner contacts, product listings, price lists, corporate compliance or custom workflow.”  In addition, Central Desktop offers templates that you can manipulate to match your precise needs.  You can also create a database from scratch or easily import data from another database or excel file.

Corporate Blog and User Forum

Central Desktop also offers the option to create your workplace into a corporate blog or a user forum.  Whether your goal is to connect with coworkers or outside teams with which you are collaborating, both of these tools are great for building rapport and keeping in touch with key project members who may share similar project goals but not the same physical space.

Looking closely at all of Central Desktop’s features, it seems like the company – through the service it offers – truly understands that communication is key in an organization – but needs to be managed more efficiently.  (Think:  no more clogged inboxes!)

Okay, okay.  I know that I’ve been praising Central Desktop left and right.  (I promise, they don’t pay me any more than the other products on these pages.)  However, there is one more tool that I think is worth noting.

Web Meetings

Central Desktop allows users to host web meetings – conferences over the phone and computer – with chat rooms, a call-in number, a whiteboard, and other collaboration tools.  True, this tool may not be as fancy as GoToMeeting.  And, unfortunately, it’s not free like freeconferencecall.com. (To add this service through Central Desktop to the lowest plans cost $35 extra/month for 1 concurrent web meeting with 15 attendees).  Nevertheless, there is the added benefit of using one interface for most of your needs.  This lessens confusion, eases familiarity, and increases the probability that people will actual USE! this benefit.

Finally, taking testimonials to the next step, Central Desktop offers a page with customer feedback based on industry, business-size, and specific features.

I will say that along with Adobe, Box, Highrise, and our webhosts (StartLogic, Bluehost, and MediaTemple), Central Desktop is one of the tools that allows RecruiterEsq to focus on productivity while keeping operating costs low. (We may slowly use Central Desktop to replace Box and Highrise.  We’ll let you know!)

Further reading:  Another lawyer raves about Central Desktop.  In 2008!  I should have listened then!

If it’s good enough for a winning presidential campaign, it’s good enough for me.

[Product Review] Basecamp for Lawyers

Basecamp

Basecamp is probably the most well-known online collaboration tool.  For over a decade, teams have used Basecamp to collaborate on projects over the web.

As with all project management tools, I highly recommend that anyone considering Basecamp tries it first.  The tool will only work for you if you decide to work with it.

37signals offers a comprehensive tour – complete with audio, video, and screenshots – to introduce you to Basecamp’s basic features such as the dashboard, to-do lists, message boards, project overviews, and file sharing.

In addition, 37signals offers a 30-day trial period with each of Basecamp’s paid accounts.  Though 37signals does not process any payment during a trial period, it does require you to enter a credit card in order to activate a paid account.  Otherwise, you can sign up for a free account.  Although the free account does not showcase all of Basecamp’s features, it is sufficient to familiarize yourself with the site to see whether you can benefit from its service.

In comparison to other online project management tools, Basecamp’s major advantage is how well it integrates with other applications for desktops and mobile devices .  For example, a number of billing and invoicing clients easily pull data from Basecamp’s time-tracking feature to simplify accounting and collections.

Potential uses for legal professionals?

  • Office staff management.  Provides an overview of each individual’s workload, including office administrators, legal secretaries, paralegals, and even document review attorneys.  Delegate tasks more efficiently with easy collaboration.  Know who is handling what.  Work together towards milestones such as filing deadlines or client meetings.
  • Recruiting process collaboration.  Facilitate the hiring process from start to finish.  Share and collaborate on job requirements and descriptions as well as resumes, business plans, or other relevant hiring documents.  Use the messaging feature to post interview feedback about candidates.  Keep track of the hiring process with milestones.

Give Basecamp a try.

Further reading: