October 2011

Get Your Bills to Talk to You

In recent posts, we’ve talked about how our legal time and billing software helps you get your invoices out, send reminders (if necessary), and get paid.

What we haven’t discussed is an ancillary – but critical – function of our law firm billing software. This function isn’t focused on the client: it’s focused on your business, and on enhancing your firm’s overall bottom line.

The function is analytic. You see, in any billing system, there are multiple parties. The first is your client. The second consists of your Timekeepers (attorneys, paralegals, secretaries). The third are vendors (in Easy TimeBill, we refer to these as “Payees”): expert witnesses, delivery services, contract attorneys, process servers, etc. The fourth are Matter Owners, or the partner or lawyer that oversees any given client or matter.

These parties create different data points, and as with all software, the data can then serve your business, rather than function as a one – way street.

For Timekeepers, yearly compensation is often tied to performance records. And in a law firm, there’s no better way to track performance than with billable hours. Timekeepers and managers alike can print out reports of their hours in any given month, quarter or year, and figure out whether they’re staying productive and on-target.

For Matter Owners, Easy TimeBill can retrieve matter reports. These both filter out other attorneys’ matters, and provide information points – at a glance. Matter Owners can quickly see whether their matters have been profitable, whether clients are paying their bills on time, whether they are staying within budget parameters, and so forth.

What these reports avoid? The need to migrate to another law firm billing software product six months down the road.

To retrieve data, download our law office billing software, and click on “Reports” in the left-hand column. For more information, call Easy Soft at 800.905.7638.

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High-Impact Software for Million Dollar Mistakes

Sometimes, seasoned real estate professionals don’t see the point of having specialized HUD-1 software. Take the HUD settlement statement form. If it’s your practice to complete it on paper, making manual calculations and adjustments as you go, then the point of using a HUD-1 program is surely lost on you.

To us, that’s like claiming a tricycle can fly you to Cambodia. You’d need a lot of ingenuity – and a fair bit of magic – to make that happen.

You see, the HUD-1 form isn’t a simple data intake form. It’s full of nuanced, fidgety little calculations – all of which our HUD-1 software performs on your behalf. And therein lies the real value.

Say the seller paid for sewage for the entire year. It’s only July, and he’s selling. Clearly, the seller needs to be credited for his sewage payments. You’d simply punch in your sewage proration per diem, and out spits the right number: almost to the hour.

Has the closing been pushed back by a week? 10 days? Okay. Rather than fill out a new form and put your hard-driving calculator back to work, you simply punch in your new closing date, and let each number automatically adjust. There’s no need to:

  • Perform the calculations all over again
  • Double-check to see if anything fell through the cracks
  • Worry that some of your calculations are flat-out wrong, and that your client will suffer later from your mistake(s)

Nope. Put in your number, enter your closing date, and let the result grind out like an automatic sausage machine. The same goes for all utility charges, payoffs of mortgages and other liens…even city and county transfer taxes. (Our HUD-1 software provides transfer tax rates for over 40 jurisdictions in the country.)

The advantages to you? You won’t make a mistake that costs you money that can never be recovered – no matter how little or great.  Additionally, since you’re likely charging a fixed-fee for your services, you do the same work in less time.

For more information about our HUD-1 software, call Easy Soft at 800.905.7638.

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Lien Release Tracking Service: Too Good to be True?

Is our lien release tracking service too good to be true?

Well, no. Easy Soft’s lien release tracking is a fantastic service that many in the title and settlement world have responded to with great enthusiasm. But we thought we’d share some of the questions that we received and clarify those of you who are still skeptics!

Q: Aren’t mortgage lien releases the responsibility of the title company?
A: No. While title companies might be of occasional assistance in tracking releases, they are not typically obligated to do so. The responsibility falls instead on settlement agents like you.

Q: What type of liens do you track?
A: We can track any lien that appears on the title: from mortgages to private liens, tax liens to contractor liens.

Q: When do I place my lien release tracking order?
A: Do so anytime before the payoff, so that the lender can be informed. If you have already made payoffs, you can still place tracking order – up to 45 days from closing.

Q: Who pays the lien release tracking fee?
A: In a real estate sale, you can charge it to the seller. In a refinance, it depends on how the GFE was prepared. If you list the item on your GFE, it is a borrower’s charge. If not, it comes out of your fee.

Q: How do I record my lien release tracking fee on a HUD-1?
A: In a sale, insert it in section 1300 (seller’s column). If listed on a GFE for a refinance, insert it in section 1100.

Q: What about the recording fee?
A: If not collected by the lender as part of a payoff, send that to Easy Soft along with The tracking fee. In either case, we will deliver a recorded mortgage lien release.

Q: What about really old liens which are still uncleared?
A: We have a separate service called “Curative Title Tracking” ($250 fee). You might have completed a settlement which needs to be cleared or you have a deal with old uncleared lien. Either way, we can help.

For more information, call Easy Soft at 800.905.7638.

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Lien Release Tracking: Clearing Title and Saving the Day

As a closing settlement agent, it’s your responsibility to secure the release of paid mortgage loans and other associated liens.

But let’s look at the cold, hard facts:

36% of mortgage liens are released late, i.e. not within the statutory period after lien payoff. 17% of satisfied mortgages are never released or recorded. At all.

What does this mean?

For one thing, the buyer doesn’t own clear title – even after having paid off his or her predecessor’s obligations.

To you, it also means your client’s file remains open indefinitely – resulting in multiple inefficiencies which impact your own bottom line.

So what are your options to secure recorded release document?

Option 1. Do it yourself.

This is a plodding, inefficient option. Tracking down the lender and/or county land records is time-consuming and cost-consuming, and simply no fun. It also keeps you on the hook—keeping your liability for clear title open—until the recorded release is received. And as you just read, in 17% of the cases—this never happens.

Option 2. Use an outside lien release tracking service.

Although there are some reputable release tracking services available, you’ve got to find one, then go to their website, sign in, and order the service. It’s a burdensome extra step.

The best option? Stay within your title and settlement software, and order your placement, status, and recorded release, then close your client’s file.

The cost? $35/lien. Best of all, this cost is normally a pass through to the seller (for a sale) or borrower (for a refinance).

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Easy Accounting for Hourly Billers

If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you know how strongly we feel that a law firm using generic, non- legal billing and accounting software is a law firm missing out on an opportunity to be efficient, streamlined, and state bar compliant.

Easy Soft’s legal billing and trust accounting software solves the problem. Easy TimeBill and Easy Trust are popular law-specific programs that meet legal billing and compliance requirements. And they do so no matter what your fee arrangements look like: whether they’re based on hourly, fixed or contingency fees.

Today, we’re going to focus on hourly billers. Family or divorce lawyers, wills, trusts and estates lawyers, general civil and commercial litigators, elder lawyers and commercial bankruptcy attorneys are examples of legal practices that typically employ an hourly fee structure. If your practice falls into one of these areas, then chances are, you receive client advances in the form of retainers, then track your daily billable time across multiple matters. Very likely, you track your expenses as incurred, and generate periodic (say, monthly) bills, and either pay them out of your clients’ retainer balances, or from new money received from your clients. You’ll probably need to juggle funds between your trust accounts and your operating accounts.

Easy TimeBill can handle all of this. You set billing rates for all timekeepers (changeable between matters), track your time and expenses per entry, and generate invoices accordingly. At the beginning of an engagement, you deposit retainers in your operating or trust accounts, then move funds between accounts according to how they are earned. You can generate detailed administrative reports, prepare payment reminders—and even initiate low retainer balance letters and collection efforts: all from the same legal billing program.

For operating accounts, we do recommend using a standard accounting program such as QuickBooks—preferred by CPAs. QuickBooks data entry becomes minimal with need to only enter data on hourly legal fees received (either from new funds or trust funds) and quarterly/yearly account receivables.

As for trust accounting, what Easy TimeBill doesn’t handle, the Easy Trust module will. Our trust accounting software allows you to receive retainers, track trust funds for individual matters, and even print disbursement checks across the proper number of accounts. You can generate required reports, reconcile bank account statements—even perform three-way reconciliations among your trust and operating accounts.

Life becomes easier. That’s why we call it Easy Soft.

To learn more about our billing and trust accounting software for attorneys, call Easy Soft at 800.905.7638.

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Lawyers Will be Lawyers

We know. You went to school for years, and boast a doctorate behind your name. You contextualize eloquently, and your logic is more or less unflawed.

But when it comes down to it, how is the law really different from other professional practices?

Well, let’s see. You advise clients. So do doctors and accountants.

Second, you collect a retainer, and bill your client according to a pre-arranged plan. Consultants do this, too, as do many technologists.

Third, your brain is your biggest tool—followed closely by your legal software. We can’t list all the professions that can say this.

Fourth, you deal with forms and other paperwork on your clients’ behalf. Yeah…you have our sympathy there (as do CPAs).

But wait. Let’s look closer at the second factor. A legal retainer is different from other professions, in the sense that the money doesn’t belong to you—unless you earn the money.

Until then, you’re just a bailee.

If you’re still using generic software to track your invoicing and payments, then you’re not leveraging technology to your advantage. And you’re probably running the risk of violating a principle that your state bar takes veeeery seriously.

Here at Easy Soft, our legal billing software -Easy TimeBill-is married to our trust accounting software -Easy Trust. What’s a huge effort to some attorneys becomes effortless to our clients.

To be clear: attorney billing software without escrow account software is like watching half a movie. It’s like using a spreadsheet program that doesn’t scale. At all. You’re only looking at one portion of your accounting—and neglecting what’s ethically crucial.

In comes Easy Soft. You collect your retainer, earn it, transfer it from one account (trust or escrow) to the other (operating). Easy TimeBill and Easy Trust track everything—and make sure you’re on the up and up. It reconciles your accounts, too.

Easy? You bet. Is there any alternative? We don’t think so. Click here for more information.

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