Bill Better Right Now: What We Learned from Smokeball’s ABA TECHSHOW panel
March 7, 2022
After a two-year in-person hiatus, the American Bar Association welcomed legal technologists back to Chicago for its annual TECHSHOW. And while attendance was at 60% of 2020 levels, those who stopped by the show, both in-person and virtually, were eager to reconnect.
On Thursday afternoon, Smokeball presented “Bill Better Right Now: A Small Law Firm Panel Discussion,” featuring Matt Johnson, firm administrator at Generation Law in Elmhurst, Ill.; Jane Nagle, founding partner at McSwain, Nagle, Giese & Rapp in Wheaton, Ill.; and Hunter Steele, Smokeball founder & CEO.
While Hunter himself isn’t an attorney, he was inspired by his attorney father to build a company that helps small firms with technology to do their jobs better. Smokeball started as a productivity powerhouse, but Hunter realized over time those same tasks were intrinsically tied to legal billing. Now, by helping attorneys capture every minute of billable work, Smokeball saves attorneys time and money while delivering quality service to their clients
Moderator Mary Ellen Kelleher, Smokeball VP of product, chatted with our panelists about the moments that matter in small law, and how better legal billing can improve both the client and firm experience. Here are some of our most important takeaways. (Answers have been edited or condensed for clarity.)
How better legal billing improves the client experience
Jane: [With Smokeball], every single thing you do, or anyone does on their matter, is captured, so the bill is super comprehensive. It gives you as an attorney the discretion to leave it all in or write it off. The option to write off makes your client think they’re getting a great deal — and maybe they are. You’re not guessing about the length of a call or meeting; it’s super accurate, so that helps clients feel comfortable about what they’re paying for.
Matt: How do you help a client who has been delayed in paying you? I come from financial services, where we had demand letters and other scary things that clients don’t want. We’re not really looking to shake people down for money, but on the other side of the coin, we want to be paid.
Smokeball allows us to generate invoice reminders during billing cycle. We don’t just stick those in the mail; we put them in front of attorneys who are responsible for collecting on those matters. They think, “Oh, I’m going to be on the phone with this person on Tuesday, I’ll just talk to them.” Invoice reminders help us engage with the client in a way that’s softer.
How better legal billing improves your firm’s business experience
Matt: The ability to efficiently bill clients once a month, on the same timeline every month. I’ve run into situations early on where if we fall behind on billing, you’re sending people with less than 30 days’ notice. As a client that doesn’t tell me a good story about how this law firm is running its business. Speed and efficiency are key for us.
Invoice reminders are a win for the client because we can figure out the best mechanism to put past-due invoices in front of them. The other side is that now there’s attorney accountability. What you can really find is all these wonderful things that improve the client experience, there’s a back end that helps attorneys do a better job too.
Jane: The bottom line is it really saves you time and money from a lot of different perspectives. Thanks to auto-billing, you as a lawyer save time not remembering what you’re doing. Theoretically the only time you’re spending is reviewing before you send.
[Smokeball also has] different reports you can run with billing and hours to see exactly how productive your attorneys have been. It’s super easy to see if what they’re doing needs to improve or change.
Hunter: One client told us, “What I realized is that I’m not cheating my clients by charging them a little bit more; I was cheating the firm. I didn’t realize what I was missing because everyone was working so hard.” Those stories are so important.
How firms can change their mindset around legal billing
Hunter: The psychology of billing isn’t something I thought would ever have a big impact on my life. My dad would pick up a paper file and the size equaled the size of the bill.
Smokeball helps you understand exactly what’s been done. Small firms are doing a really important job, helping people at a time of need. I think it’s important to bill what you’ve done. At the end of the day, the gap between work done and billed is way too big. As an industry, we need to change it a bit. I hear attorneys say, “I’m way too busy,” instead of, “I’m not doing enough.” That’s why it’s important to use technology to get more done.
If disaster strikes, is your firm prepared?
Join Attorney and Smokeball Legal Technology Advisor Jordan Turk for our next FREE CLE webinar on December 15th at 1 PM CST.
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