Large law firms have long had advantages over new or small law firms — an established name, existing clients, support staff and resources. But newer technology has helped level the playing field for small law firms when it comes to system infrastructure and management.
Small startups are often in a better position to take advantage of cloud-based case-management and accounting software. Harness the power of the cloud, and your firm can move with speed and efficiency well beyond your numbers.
A Case Management System Case Study
Let's say your firm lands a new client that posts an initial $10,000 deposit to handle their case. That money immediately is recorded in the trust account on your case-management system. From that point on, every increment of time, whether it's 15 hours or 15 minutes, gets logged into the case-management system for that particular case. The time of anyone at your firm who is working on the case is recorded at the appropriate billable rate. You can also invoice your clients directly out of that system while accounting for all relevant expenses.
The Importance of Integration
How you determine your billing period is up to you. You can bill at regular intervals of time (e.g. at the end of the month) or based on reaching certain benchmarks (e.g. filing an appeal). Whatever your preference, it's critical to be consistent — and to be diligent.
That's the rub for many busy lawyers. Even the most sophisticated case-management system is only as good as the data it contains. If there are issues with firms that use case-management software, it is almost always because the lawyers aren't entering relevant information into the system on a timely basis. And that means the records, including the all-important trust account, won't be accurate and up-to-date.
Because of this, many law firms also use outsourced bookkeeping support to reconcile everything between a standard accounting system, such as QuickBooks Online, and the case-management system. Reconciliations at regular intervals — typically once a month — give the bookkeeper an opportunity to alert the firm of inconsistencies, inaccuracies and other red flags. That helps law firms comply with the stringent requirements of their trust accounts.Really, if you have a small law firm and aren't using a cloud-based case-management system, the only relevant question at this point is: Why not? This technology can create a case-management system and office infrastructure that will put you on more equal footing with the big firms.