A close friend opened her own solo legal practice this year. From what I saw, it was an exciting and terrifying experience. Not even a year in, she is already thriving. I am delighted to see her hard work is already paying off.
A few months ago, she was lamenting to me that her accounting software did not have an easy way for her to track her hours worked and her expenses incurred and then generate a client report. And the software that did exist was incredibly expensive. As she was describing to me what she needed, I had a thought. “I bet I could do something like that.” So I put myself to the task.
My goals were modest: Could I put something together (1) in an existing and common program (2) that didn’t use coding, which would open itself up to malicious code being inserted, and (3) that would meet the needs of a solo practitioner? After a couple months of on-the-side work after the kids went to bed, I feel like I have determined the answer is yes. I thought I might share my results with you.
The program is Excel. If you have Microsoft Excel (version 2010 or later), this should work for you. If you are a solo practitioner (or have a very small office that can share one Excel spreadsheet), I believe you could find this useful.
To get a copy of the spreadsheet, click here.
The first tab of the spreadsheet includes instructions. Hopefully, that is enough. If you prefer images with your instructions, continue reading.
First, let’s save a version to your computer. (The link above will provide you with a web-accessed, read-only version.) Click on the link, and you should see something like this:
Click on the ‘File’ tab, and choose ‘Download as’ and ‘Microsoft Excel.’
Save it to your desired location. And then open up the file that you have saved. When you do, you may see this message at the top of the Excel window:
If you see that, click ‘Enable Editing.’
Now let’s go over some terms. These are your worksheets. (They should appear at the bottom of Excel.)
These are your “ribbons.” They give you various options for things you can do with your spreadsheets.
The first thing you must do is enter in your clients. Click on the ‘Client Matter List.’ You should see this:
The dark blue area contains your headings. The light blue area is where you’ll type in the necessary information. You should always type in new information on the very next line. Gaps in the lines will cause problems with the spreadsheet.
Now let’s fill in the information. If you have one client with multiple matters, you will need to type in the same client multiple times, with each line listing a different matter. To make things a little more complicated, if you have multiple attorneys working on the same matter, you will need a line for each attorney in each matter on each client. For example, let’s say you have one client (Sally Jones) with two matters (‘Jones v. Carson’ and ‘Estate Planning). Now let’s say, for Jones v. Carson, there’s you and one other attorney in your office working on that case. You will fill in the client list like this:
If the client matter does not have an identified ending date, put something far into the future. (I used 1/1/3030.) If the billing rates change in the process of the representation, put the last date of the old billing rate into the ‘Date End’ field, then create a new line with the updated billing date, etc. with the day after the old ‘Date End’ being the ‘Date Start’ for the new line. For example, let’s say the billing rate for the Estate Planning matter changes at some point. Here’s what that should look like:
If you make *any* changes or additions to the ‘Client Matter List’ worksheet, you *have* to follow this next step. Click on the ‘Data’ worksheet (at the bottom of Excel), and then click on the ‘Data’ ribbon (near the top of Excel). You should see a button that says ‘Refresh All.’ Click on it.
That’s it. You’re done. Please note: ***Do not manually change any of the fields on the ‘Data’ worksheet. This information updates automatically when you click on ‘Refresh All’ in the ‘Data’ ribbon. Making manual changes on this spreadsheet can cause errors in the functionality of the rest of the spreadsheet.***
Now you are ready to start entering in your time and your expenses. Let’s start with time. Click on the ‘Timesheet’ worksheet. You should see this:
The ‘Client’ field and the ‘Matter’ field will be restricted to the clients and matters you identified in the ‘Client Matter List’ worksheet. This is to prevent small typing errors that lead to large billing errors.
Fill in the necessary information for columns A through G (Client, Matter, Date, Time Start, Time End, and Description). Please note: ***there are automated fields to the right of the ‘Description’ column. DO NOT type in these fields or in any other way manipulate them. This can lead to errors in your billing reports.***
The ‘Expenses’ worksheet looks similar:
Like the ‘Timesheet’ worksheet, the ‘Client’ field and the ‘Matter’ field will be restricted to the clients and matters you identified in the ‘Client Matter List’ worksheet. Fill in columns A through E (Client, Matter, Date, Description, and Amount). Also like the ‘Timesheet’ worksheet, DO NOT type in the fields or in any other way manipulate anything to the right of the ‘Amount’ column. These fields are automated and manual changes can lead to errors.
Now you are ready to start creating and printing reports. Let’s start with a time report. Click on the ‘Time Report’ worksheet. It looks like this:
Click on the ‘Data’ ribbon (near the top of Excel). You should see a button that says ‘Refresh All.’ Click on it.
If you have a logo, you can add yours to the worksheet. Also, update the address, email, and web address lines (with whatever information you want to appear on the report).
Now, select the dropdown next to ‘Client’ (row 9), and choose the appropriate client. Do the same for ‘Billing Period’ (row 10). The rest should fill in. It will look something like this:
Print that out, and you have a decent time billed report. The same procedure applies to the expense report. Click on the ‘Expense Report’ worksheet.
Click on the ‘Data’ ribbon, and select ‘Refresh All.’
Select the dropdown next to ‘Client’ (row 9), and choose the appropriate client. Do the same for ‘Billing Period’ (row 10). The rest should fill in. It will look something like this:
Print, and you’re done.
It may help you to have a spreadsheet will sample data already filled in for you to play around with. If you would like to try your hand at the various functions with mock data, click here.
I hope you find this useful. It’s limited in its functionality, but it’s also free. Hopefully, it is useful in comparison to its cost.