Electronic Pre-Bill Approval is an add-on feature
Electronic Pre-Bill Approval is an add-on to the base version of Centerbase. If you do not have Electronic Pre-Bill Approval active on your site and you are interested in taking advantage of this functionality, please contact your sales rep to start the process.
Electronic Pre-Bill Approval allows your firm to handle your entire pre-bill review process from within Centerbase. Once the pre-bills are generated, the reviewers will have access to the pre-bill on the Pre-Bill Approval page where they can view, edit, and approve the pre-bill. Any edits they make will be tracked – allowing you to view the updated bill with markups included, when needed. Once a user approves the pre-bill, it is sent to the next person to review and approve based on a customized workflow. During the setup process, Centerbase will meet with your team to discuss how the workflow needs to be configured for your firm, and how it will interface with your existing pre-bill process.
To assist your billing department, pre-bills are divided into two tabs: Approved and Pending Approval. This is a simple way to see which bills have been 'final approved' and which bills are still making their way through the review process.
Let's walk through an example with a basic workflow moving from Associate to Responsible Attorney to Billing for final approval.
The process starts when your billing department generates pre-bills for a certain cycle. Once the pre-bill has been generated, the associate will be able to view and edit the pre-bill. Even though they can edit the pre-bill, the associate will only be able to edit time entries that they already have permission to edit. The approval process is fully permission based – allowing the firm to set limitations on what individual users can view and edit.
The associate will then navigate to the Pre-Bill Approval page and click "Edit" to start making changes to the description, billable hours, rate, and amount. If the amount is edited, the billable hours will be adjusted to keep 'Rate x Time = Amount' true.
The associate notices that there is a missing time entry on the pre-bill. To add a billing entry, the associate will click the plus sign in the upper right corner and select "Billing Entry". Once the new entry is saved, the associate sees that the number on the "Unapproved Entries" tab has increased. The user will navigate to that tab, check the box for the appropriate entry, and click "Approve for Bill". This action will add the new time entry to the pre-bill.
To complete their portion of the pre-bill approval process, the associate navigates back to the pre-bill tab and clicks the green "Approval" button. Their page then moves to the next bill in their queue, and the pre-bill they just approved moves to the responsible attorney's queue.
The responsible attorney now reviews the pre-bill to make their changes. They will also see the edits, additions, and deletions made by the associate. The responsible attorney sees two time entries that need special changes – one entry needs to be marked as non-billable, and the other entry needs to be held until the next bill. The responsible attorney moves to the "Line Items" tab to make these changes. For the non-billable line item, they open the billing entry using the pencil icon and mark the entry as non-billable. For the entry that needs to be held they select it and press the "Hold Time Entries" button. This will remove the entry from the pre-bill and mark it as held so that it will not automatically be added to the next pre-bill. Instead, it will remain on the "Held Entries" tab for that matter's pre-bills until it is added to a pre-bill or deleted.
The responsible attorney anticipates that billing will want further detail on why the entries were marked non-billable and held, so they add a note and give a short explanation before approving the pre-bill. The note automatically adds the date and username to help identify who made the note.
The pre-bill is now in the billing team's queue. They review the pre-bill and can see the addition, non-billable, and held entries. They see that the "Notes" button is yellow, indicating that there is a note attached to the pre-bill. They press the button to check the notes and are satisfied with the explanation. The billing person can then 'final approve' the pre-bill which will move the pre-bill from the pending approval tab to the approved tab on the pre-bills page.
At this point, the billing person can post and send out the bill. One important note is that your firm's current process for generating and posting pre-bills will not change. There are also many opportunities to customize the workflows required to set up the flow described above.
Below is a detailed overview of the pre-bill approval page.
This is the primary tab where you can view and edit the web copy of the prebill.
- Edit button (pre-bill tab only): Use this button to change the edit view on the pre-bill tab. This will allow you to make line-item edits to the pre-bill. Changes in the edit view are saved as you make them
- Select a pre-bill dropdown: A drop down list of all the pre-bills that were in your queue when you opened the pre-bill approval page. You can use the search bar to look for a specific bill number.
- Client dropdown: This dropdown allows you to filter the list to only show bills for the client selected. Only clients who have bills in your queue are listed here.
- Matters dropdown: This dropdown allows you to filter the list to only show bills for the matter selected. Only matters that have bills in your queue are listed here.
- Pre-bill (x/y) and left/right buttons: The numbers in the parentheses tell you how many pre-bills are in your queue, y, and which pre-bill you are viewing, x.
- Show Markup? toggle: When toggled on, the pre-bill tab will show text that was deleted with a strikethrough and text that was added in the color of the user that approved those changes. Additionally, if multiple users have approved changes, there will be a key under this noting the user, their color, and the time and date they made the changes. If changes have not already been approved, then the changed text will show in your color. When toggled off the pre-bill tab will show the bill in its current state.
- Print button: Opens the browser print screen. This will print what you are seeing in the pre-bill tab. Please note, if markups are turned on, then the printed document will include the markups.
- Notes button (pre-bill tab only): Opens the bill's notes on the pre-bill tab. A yellow notepad will open on your screen and it allows you to leave a note for others that may review the bill after you. The notes are automatically stamped with the date and user. If there is already a note tied to the bill, the "Notes" button will appear yellow.
- User Dropdown: Viewable only to those with the user permission "View/Approve Pre-Bills for All Users". This dropdown allows you to view the queue of another user. If you approve a pre-bill under a different user, it will continue along in the workflow as if the selected user had approved it. However, the approval timestamp will show the name of the user logged in and not the selected user from the dropdown.
- Pre-bill tab: The main tab on the page that allows you to view the web copy of the pre-bill and make edits on the bill.
- Line Items tab: This tab shows you all the billing entries on this pre-bill. Additional detail is included below.
- Held Entries tab: This tab shows you all the billing entries that have been held on this matter. Additional detail is included below.
- Unapproved Entries tab: This tab shows you all the billing entries on this matter that have not been approved. Additional detail is included below.
- Approval log: This area will only populate with data after the first person approves the pre-bill. The log will show a username, timestamp, and color for the user(s) who have previously approved this pre-bill.
- Approval button: The display name on this button is set by the workflow and each approval step can configure the display name. By clicking the Approval button, the pre-bill is approved and sent to the next person in the workflow. If applicable, an additional step can be added to the workflow that will initiate a dialog box to open when you press "Approve" – this will allow the approver to enter additional information to be saved to the bill.
In the edit view, you can make changes directly in the cells outlined in red. While every row has the same fields marked as editable attempting to edit a billing entry that you do not have permission to edit will give you an error. Description and Billable Hours are the two basic fields that can be edited. The user in the example above also has the permission "Edit Rates on Pre-bills", which is why the Rate is also editable. The example screenshot has the setting "Enable Users to Edit Line Item Totals" turned on which is why the Amount is also editable. If you edit the amount, then the Billable Hours will be modified to equal Amount divided by Rate. After you make a change to billable hours, rate, or amount there will be a short loading time as the pre-bill recalculates the totals for the bill.
After you have made edits to the pre-bill the markup view will show you that was changed. In the case above everything that is purple was changed by the user.
- This was a change in spelling. The previous word is shown with a strikethrough and replaced with the updated wording.
- Text shown with a strikethrough was originally included on the pre-bill but removed or hidden by a reviewer.
- Colored text indicates an addition to the pre-bill.
- If Billable Hours or Amount are changed, the original numbers will be shown with a strikethrough and the updated numbers will be shown in the colored text.
You can also see that the subtotals and totals are being changed as you adjust the entries.
Line Item Tab:
You can also view the billing entries on the pre-bill in a data table. This tab allows you to hold entries, merge entries, and open the billing entry details to edit fields that are not on the pre-bill itself, such as "Non-Billable" and "Show on Bill". This tab will show the entries in their current state and will not show the markup history.
- Hold Time Entries button: This button will remove the selected entries from the pre-bill and mark them as held. Entries that are marked as held will not automatically be added to newly generated bills. Held entries will remain on this tab and will be available to add to the next pre-bill. This button only works if you have permission to edit the time entries that are being held.
- Merge Time Entries button: This will merge the selected time entries into a single time entry. This only works if the time entries are for the same timekeeper. The next step will allow you to select the date for the newly merged entry. The descriptions will also be included with the new entry. This button only works if you have permission to edit the time entries that are being merged.
Billing Entries Table:
- Checkbox: Used to select entries.
- Timekeeper: The timekeeper for the entry.
- Visible: Denotes whether the billing entry is visible on the bill or not. Entries that are not marked visible will be included on the line items tab but will not be shown on the pre-bill tab. If an entry is made not visible after the pre-bill was generated the entry will be crossed out on the pre-bill tab, similarly to entries that are held, removed, or deleted from the pre-bill.
- Actual (editable): This is the amount of actual worked hours on the billing entry. You can edit this field directly on the page without having to open the billing entry dialog.
- Billable (editable): The billable hours for this entry. You can edit this field directly on the page without having to open the billing entry dialog.
- Description (editable): The description for the entry. You can edit this field directly on the page without having to open the billing entry dialog.
- Amount: The total amount for this entry.
- Approved By: This will display the user and timestamp of who approved the time entry. This will primarily be used if someone adds a new or held entry to the pre-bill.
- Edit Details: The Pencil is a button to open the billing entry dialog to allow you to make edits to the fields for your billing entries.
Moving a billing entry to another matter:
To move a billing entry to another matter simply open the billing entry dialog from the line items tab, change the matter on the entry and click save. After it saves, a dialog will appear and allow you to move the entry to the matter as WIP or to an open pre-bill. If the default rate for the two matters is different, a notification will appear and allow you to decide which rate to use.
Held Entries Tab:
Time entries that have been held on this matter will display on this tab. An entry that was held during the last billing cycle will be included here and not on the next pre-bill generated for the matter.
Place Entry on Bill button: This button will approve the selected entries and place them on the pre-bill. This button only works if you have permission to edit the time entries that are being approved.
The fields in this table work the same as in the line items tab.
Unapproved Entries Tab:
This tab displays time entries that have not individually been approved. Individual time entry approval is part of Centerbase's Time Entry Approval system. Time entries that are on the pre-bill will appear on this tab. This tab will also show any unapproved time entries that are not on the pre-bill. So you can use this tab to add missing time entries to a pre-bill.
Approve and place on Bill button: This will approve all of the selected time entries and add them to the pre-bill if they are not already included. This button only works if you have permission to edit the time entries that are being approved.
The fields in this table work the same as in the line items tab.
Electronic pre-bill approval has its own settings and permissions within the system. This section will cover where they are located and what they do.
The settings for pre-bill approval are configured in the System Settings > Pre-Bill Approval. This page will only be visible if pre-bill approval has been activated on your account by Centerbase. On this page, you will find three settings.
Enable Pre-bill Approval: This allows the firm to turn off pre-bill approval by unchecking the box. If this is not checked, then you will not be able to access the Pre-Bill Approval page and the pre-bills page will not be split into two tabs. If checked, individual pre-bills will have to be approved before posting.
Enable Timekeepers to Approve Pre-bills With Their Time On It: If checked, this allows users with the permission "Has Timekeeper Approval on Pre-Bills With Their Time" to approve pre-bills with their time on it.
Enable Users to Edit Line Item Totals: If checked, allows users to directly edit the line item amount field when using the pre-bill editor. When the amount is edited, the billable hours are changed to equal "Amount" divided by "Rate" so that Rate x Hours will still equal amount.
There is also a section where an admin must define which users have access to the feature. Users can be selected from the drop down and the available slots will correlate with the licenses activated by Centerbase.
The checked off permissions in the image above are the ones used by pre-bill approval.
- Has Timekeeper Approval on Pre-Bills With Their Time: This is used with the pre-bill approval setting "Enable Timekeepers to Approve Pre-bills With Their Time On It". See below for more details on how this works.
- Pre-Bill Approval Permissions: By selecting this permission, the four subcategories below will all be selected.
- Edit Rates on Pre-bills: Users with this permission will be able to edit the rate field from the pre-bill approval tab. The user must have permission to edit the time entry to edit the rate.
- Final Approve Pre-bills without Timekeeper Approval: This permission is also used with "Enable Timekeepers to Approve Pre-bills With Their Time On It". See below for more details on this feature.
- View/Approve Pre-Bills for All Users: This permission allows the user to view the queue of another user. Having this permission makes the "User" dropdown visible on the pre-bill approval page. While viewing another person's queue, you can make edits and approve the pre-bill. Note: these actions are restricted to your security permissions. Meaning, if you do not have the permission to edit a time entry and are viewing another user's queue that does have this permission, you are still unable to edit a time entry since the system will check your individual permissions. Additionally, if you approve the pre-bill, your name will be stamped in the approval history and not the person whose queue you are viewing.
- Post Unapproved Pre-Bills: Allows you to post a pre-bill that has not been final approved. A warning notification will appear before the bill is posted.
Timekeeper Approval on Pre-Bills with Their Time:
There is a special feature built into the pre-bill approval functionality that allows specified users to view, edit, and approve pre-bills that have one or more of their time entries on it – even when the user is not included in the workflow. This was built with the idea that it would be used by partners who may log a small amount of time on someone else's matter and want the ability to confirm and edit the pre-bill themselves.
How it works
You must have the setting "Enable Timekeepers to Approve Pre-bills With Their Time On It" turned on and give the permission "Has Timekeeper Approval on Pre-Bills With Their Time" to everyone who will be reviewing their own time. Once that is complete, when you generate your bills, users with the permission will receive a copy of the pre-bill in their queue to view, edit, and approve. While the pre-bill will continue to get edited as the users in the workflow make changes to it, the approvals will not be removed from this user. Additionally, the pre-bill's presence in their queue will not prevent the workflow from continuing until the final approval step. This allows the timekeeper to approve the bill at any time without holding up the review process. Approvals of this nature will always be named "Timekeeper Approval". While this setting is active, a system check will run when the final approval is attempted. If there is a timekeeper who still needs to approve the pre-bill, then the final approval will be stopped and an error message will be displayed. If a user has the permission "Final Approve Pre-bills without Timekeeper Approval", they will be given a warning message before they are able to proceed with final approval of the pre-bill.
Contact your Centerbase sales rep to build the pre-bill approval workflow for your account.
There are only two workflow options that can be selected to adjust user actions on bills – "Approval" action and "Final Approval" action. "Approval Action" marks the bill to appear on the pre-bill approval page. "Final Approval" moves the pre-bill from pending approval to approval on the pre-bill page. Note: "Final Approval" is a type of approval action, so you do not need to check them both.
A node can only have a single approval action in it, but you can have multiple nodes with a "Final Approval" action. A pre-bill that has been final approved can still be viewed in pre-bill approval and can be approved again. If a user action is set to use a user lookup field that is blank, the workflow will move to the next node thus skipping the approval.
Pro tip: Set an update command after every approval action to update the "Approved By" to the current user, "Approved On" to current date/time, and "Approval Status" to the status you are using.
Examples of things that can be built using the workflows:
- Sending the pre-bill to two paralegals and allowing it to continue to the next step in the workflow process if either of them approve it
- Allowing the initial approver to set a custom order of approvers
- Allowing a review to send a bill to a custom user and have it returned afterward.
- Using filters to send bills to different workflows depending on (a) matter field(s)