Ron: For small & solo practices, the use of QuickBooks ( www.quickbooks.com ) for financial reporting and Timeslips ( www.timeslips.com ) for time & billing is the best bet, although there are certainly many other options.
Dave: PCLaw + Amicus Attorney or Time Matters - accounting with trust module
Regardless of the software you choose to use, invest in the most current versions and adequate training.
A key decision is whether or not to use an integrated system that allows general ledger activity, time and billing activity and trust accounting to work together, thereby minimizing the need for duplicative entry of data.
Integrated accounting systems require more training and implementation setup.
But can offer greater efficiencies and deceased ethical risk.
Using outside resources to maintain your books
Use a qualified bookkeeper:
Posting of cash receipts to ledger and client accounts
The value of legal services is elusive and intangible in nature.
The best time to provide a bill for services rendered is dependent on the circumstances and the arrangement reached with the client, interim billings and billings immediately upon completion will normally work best.
Often it is a people problem that holds up the ability to render invoices as quickly as they should be.
The ability to recover costs advanced on behalf of the client will be dependent on the nature of the work, what is normal and customary for the type of work being done and the billing relationship established with the client.
Developing appropriate methods and tools to capture the costs to be recovered is a critical aspect of making headway in this area.
With the growth in electronic communications, including court mandated filings, on-line collaboration on work product, remote access and telecommuting, the need to maintain security over access to electronic data is becoming a critical issue.
This is a growing problem in society generally, but in the context of a law firm one should not lose focus on the need to insure your clients and referral sources do not confuse your firm with others, in terms of personnel, capabilities and resources.