Time is Money: Jenny Ellingson of Di Duca Ellingson Captures More Billable Time with Smokeball
January 29, 2019
I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Jenny Ellingson, partner at Di Duca Ellingson, APC in Chico, California. Jenny was happy to talk about the positive changes her firm has experienced since implementing Smokeball and fully utilizing its automatic legal time tracking software and legal billing software capabilities. Jenny’s firm is one of many Smokeball clients that have seen substantial improvements in capturing time, which translates directly into less time at work and more money in the bank.
Di Duca Ellingson’s Expertise
“We do mostly transactional work,” Jenny began after I asked her to tell me a bit about her practice. “We focus on contractors and do a lot of construction work.” Her partner, Ben Di Duca, was a contractor for years before becoming a lawyer and knows the construction business inside out. The firm was built out of connections with contractors and having a deep understanding of their legal needs. “We also do estate planning and weird off-shoots of things every now and then because a construction client needs us to do an unlawful detainer or a TRO,” she elaborated.
Jenny’s team is relatively small. The firm runs with one other associate attorney and one paralegal. Because each member is mostly independent and responsible for their own work and time, Jenny knew that they needed a system allowing that independence to be reconciled for billing at the end of each month.
Smokeball Helped With Its Own Billing Expertise
Jenny began by outlining that the firm “is capturing much more of our time, in particular with Auto:Time and emails.” She elaborated on a problem that many lawyers face each day – losing tons of time to emails in small, unnoticeable pieces (i.e., death by a thousand cuts). “People just don’t realize that they actually went back and forth with a person 20 times, you know? You think, ‘Oh, I’m just answering yes or no or a real quick question.’ Well, then you add that up 20 times in one day, and it’s a significant chunk of time!” The firm really wasn’t billing for all of those “quick” emails before, and now that they are, the money previously lost was astounding. “That made a big difference,” she admitted resoundingly.
“It makes a really big difference because most of our clients contact us through email. We get new matters through email all the time, so we initially capture a lot more information.”
Jenny’s firm utilized one of Smokeball’s most powerful features to capture unbilled time on emails. Smokeball tracks all time spent on emails associated with a file so that nothing falls through the cracks. Jenny’s team began by ensuring emails were associated with a matter, and once that was done, all correspondence was recorded and the time spent on it tracked down to the second. At the end of the month, Jenny and her team simply had to look through what Smokeball recorded that they may not have – the difference was evident. “It makes a really big difference because most of our clients contact us through email. We get new matters through email all the time, so we initially capture a lot more information.”
Additionally, Smokeball’s robust partnership and integration with LawPay, combined with Smokeball legal billing software, means Jenny’s team is “getting paid where we wouldn’t have at all before.” The ease with which clients can pay their invoice with a credit card has improved cash flow for the firm not insignificantly. “I would say it works out to a couple thousand dollars a month,” she said of the income that wasn’t flowing in before Smokeball and LawPay came on the scene.
Smokeball Billing Is Constantly Improving for Clients
Jenny and her team have watched Smokeball Billing improve to meet all of their billing needs since becoming early adopters of the software. She noted how pleased she was to see Smokeball work to adjust invoice presentation, especially fitting invoices to windowed envelopes. “[T]hat was the biggest pain in the butt [when we first started]. So when that got fixed, that was huge.” Jenny knows firsthand that Smokeball stands by its core value to innovate for the client and not for the press release.
She also knows what billing life was like without Smokeball Billing. “We were using Abacus, and we had an outside bookkeeper doing [billing] through Abacus, so we would handwrite things and then she would type them in. And then we’d have to go through the drafts and fix things because that person wasn’t an attorney and didn’t work in a legal office.” The process was onerous each month. “It took forever,” she remembered. Now, she simply filters Smokeball Billing to show her which clients owe a certain amount or above and batch finalize invoices for the month: “being able to control the amount that we bill for is super helpful.” The process is much more streamlined.
Smokeball Makes Practice Less Stressful
One of Jenny’s highest points of praise for what Smokeball gives her firm is above and beyond the actual product itself — it’s the people and award-winning client support. “Having you guys train people from the beginning has helped us,” she said, thinking back to when she had to figure everything out herself on other software. With their previous program, there was a trail of bad training from the start:
“No one had used it properly. All the information was input improperly and the person that was training had been trained wrong by someone who had been trained wrong” and on and on. “So there was no hope of getting it done properly.” That Smokeball takes up the task of training any new staff member and answering questions when they arise is invaluable to Jenny’s team. “Everything’s centrally located now,” she said, so the firm doesn’t “get bogged down for an hour trying to find something and then try to explain to somebody else where to find something—a nightmare,” New staff members have had no trouble at all with Smokeball: “it’s very easy to tell someone where the search bar is,” she laughed. “There’s just significantly less time [spent] explaining our procedures. They don’t have to look in four places for contacts, they don’t have to look in three different places for calendar information. It’s all in one spot.”
The firm also has a better handle on numbers and key performance indicators before it’s too late to make corrections. Smokeball’s Firm Insights give them exactly that. “We have a much better ability to tell partway through the month where we are,” she noted, referencing the fact that Smokeball captures how much time you’re spending on everything in the system. “We can see, oh we’ve spent way too much time doing admin crap the first couple of weeks.”
Additionally, Jenny personally sees more time at home with her family since adopting Smokeball. With a goal of certain hours billed per week, Jenny finds herself meeting that goal without working the whole weekend. “I don’t have to work every weekend now, which I did before to try to get [those] hours. I work my normal time and I can work at home a little bit. Hitting the hours isn’t requiring me to be away from home as much as it was before.” This is an essential goal of Smokeball: less stress because of more efficient work all leading to more success.
In all, Jenny’s experience with Smokeball is similar to many clients who have adopted Smokeball case management software and Smokeball Billing as the end-to-end solution for their law firm. Her team is working more efficiently, getting more time at home, and bringing in money that was simply never hitting their books before, all because of a software choice. For Jenny, helping run her small firm is not as stressful as it used to be: “I love it. It’s way easier for me.”
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