5 questions to help you find the best software for your mid-market law firm
You’re done procrastinating about buying new accounting software for your law firm. It’s time to do this. It’s easy to see why you waited: You don’t buy new accounting software often. And most likely, you’ll be buying cloud accounting software. That’s a new idea if you haven’t upgraded in a few years. It’s disruptive – no matter how efficient this software will make your workflow, you have to learn a new process and get into the habit of using it.
And the other lawyers in your law firm need to buy in. And once you get it, you’re not going to replace it for a long time, unless it turns out to be a total catastrophe. Which is a long way of saying: you had better do your due diligence before buying new software.
A quick note on timekeeping and billing as it relates to your accounting software: Your accounting software will be streamlined, automated and delight you in its efficiencies only if you use timekeeping and billing software that deeply integrates into it. You don’t want to separate the accounting functions from your accounts receivable and trust management or you will be dealing with manual workarounds – the redundancy of retyping your time tracking and invoices into your accounting software. This defeats the whole idea of streamlining the process. In short, this means that you’re going to be looking at cloud accounting software. Keep this in mind.
Following are 5 issues to consider:
1. Who is going to use it?
First, you need to understand who will be using the software. Is this just for your accountant? Will the lawyers touch the accounting software or just your legal timekeeping and billing tool? Do assistants need access? This should be clear at the outset so that you know:
- From whom you need to get buy-in?
- How many licenses you’ll need to buy — pricing may come into play?
- How are different folks going to use the tool and what are their specific needs with regard to features?
- Who can see what data and how does the product delineate between users? Is there an approval process on the timesheets? Does everyone need access to that?
2. How and where do you want to interact with the software?
If you have an accounting department, you have people who can do manual work – this is an on premise solution. If you make the decision to buy software that needs to be used on-premise, your people will not be able to work remotely with this kind of software.
If you use cloud accounting software, you will have more flexibility for employees and the time of day (or night) that they want to work.
3. How do you want the software to interact with bank accounts or other external websites?
First, you need to make sure that your bank account can sync with the software. Then, how easily is it for you to assimilate data after the sync? Do you have to manually input data? For many people — you included — that should be a deal killer.
QuickBooks Online is the leader in the space mainly due to its robust engine of features and its availability to developers within the Intuit Marketplace to further customize the software for niche markets, such as law firms. More users means more apps. It is for this reason that LeanLaw has chosen to create add-on software for QuickBooks Online, creating a true and deep integration that makes QuickBooks Online work so well for law firms. Spoiler alert: we think you should purchase QuickBooks Online.
Update for 2020: Intuit introduced QuickBooks Online Advanced in 2019. This software is key for mid-market law firms as it’s more robust than basic QuickBooks Online (if you have more than 250 chart of accounts, you’ll need Advanced), with reporting and trust accounting primarily.
4. What data do you need to get out of the application?
Your software needs to have features that will make your accounting simpler and more transparent.
- What reports do you want to use?
- How much billed
- How much collected
- Trust balance
- Clients reports
- Timekeeper reports
- Attorney compensation reports
- Originating attorney hours
- Can you get out of it what you put into it?
- Does the navigation sequence seem familiar enough?
Know what reports you need, have a list and make sure you “kick the tires” before you commit. Once you sign up for a demo and free trial (ask for it if they don’t offer), don’t wait to use it. Dive in. You’ll know in the first week if this is the right software for you by just using it. Having accurate data will improve the operations of your law firm.
5. What is the workflow and how does the accounting tool integrate?
You want to make sure it will work with the other applications you are using today. Really, your accounting tool should be the center and your other tools should work with it. We see a lot of manual work where folks are having to accommodate the lack of connection between applications – usually with how timekeeping and billing ties into accounting. Why invest in a tool that causes manual work? New cloud accounting software today should provide for total automation once the raw data is entered.
BONUS: 3 More Important Insights From Top Accountants
We reached out to a few accountants to get their top tips for buying legal accounting software. Here are their suggestions:
Lynda Artesani, Professional QuickBooks Advisor, Artesani Bookkeeping:
Working with a growing firm has been a dream for me! We have been able to take many law firms out of antiquated desktop programs and give them smooth integration and automated workflows. We are taking them into the 21st century with less manual data entry.
Sarah Prevost, Professional QuickBooks Advisor, Mintage Labs:
Making the switch! Midsize firms can’t afford not to move to a cloud-based solution. It’s transformational. The exciting moment in utilizing online software, which will save you money by moving away from costly server upkeep, has become critical for firms to deepen the knowledge of valuable administrative time spent on tasks software can perform. It also offers a significant advantage to better systems, integrations, transparency, realtime data, custom user roles, and so forth. LeanLaw, with the newly designed QuickBooks Online Advanced platform, produces the beginning to a healthier way of doing business. We love the difference it makes in our client’s everyday experiences.
Brandy Derrick, CPA, LegalEase Bookkeeping:
Custom form fields are a critical component in law firm reporting. They are essential in determining profitability by attorney, location or another data point. Custom forms, used in tandem with Leanlaw’s current revenue tracking create valuable, real-time data for my clients.
Recommended Legal Accounting Software: QuickBooks Online
Toward the goal of creating the most efficient law firm accounting workflow, LeanLaw has chosen QuickBooks Online as the platform on which to build the LeanLaw software integration because it most fully optimizes all of the considerations that we presented.
- There is so much power under the hood of QuickBooks Online that we corralled into useful information for law firms: outstanding invoices, expenses, trust accounting, flat fees — all of these workflows are optimized by the combination of QuickBooks Online and LeanLaw.
- Because of the deep integration with QuickBooks Online, it is only this accounting software that we can sincerely tell you is going to work best with your law firm, especially as optimized by the LeanLaw add-on.
If you’re in the market for new software, check us out. We answer the phone or you can email us here. Since our software has been developed for a deep integration with QuickBooks Online, you can count on total automation, efficiency and transparency for your law practice accounting needs.