Accounting Pros: What Questions to Ask When Interviewing a Lawyer

At LeanLaw, we encourage our Accounting Pros to niche into law firm clients. We think that attorneys make the best clients. They’re smart, detail-oriented and need the least amount of hand-holding of any client.

We also like to help our LAPs win new law firm clients. Toward that end, we have meetups and webinars within the community so that members can become experts with their lawyer clients.

Recently, an Accounting Pro asked us about what kind of questions she should ask when interviewing a prospective client. Right up our alley! We’ve condensed the conversation below:

Questions to ask a prospective law firm client:

Do you use a practice management tool or a more specific invoicing tool? Describe the steps and tools you use to track time, produce draft invoices and deliver invoices to clients.

This question is all about what tools are driving the invoicing workflow. If they are using a practice management tool, ask how they use it. Does it serve a purpose beyond invoicing? Many firms overpay for features and functionality not used. How is data synced to the accounting tool? Is this manual or automated? How accurate in real-time?

Probe here around how long it takes, how manual is the process is, and what tools are being used or not used.

How do you bill? Hourly, contingency, fixed-fee, or a hybrid of all?

This is a critical question. The answer dictates the workflow. As an example, a contingency lawyer may have cash flow issues as it is a boom-or-bust way of practicing. Helping the law firm keep on top of cash flow is crucial, here.

How are retainers used in the firm? How are trust funds managed, accounted for, reconciled, and reported back to their clients?

Helping to manage trust is an enormous value-add to a law firm. Probing this question tells the attorney you know a thing about law firm’s and their bank accounts. Trust reconciliation can be an additional fee you can charge.

What reports do you review? With what frequency? What insights are you trying to gain? What is your most important metric as it relates to financials? How is compensation derived?

Data, data, data. Your value-add is to help the lawyer understand the fiscal health, the efficiency, and profitability of her practice and her staff. This data can also tell her if a client is a good client, from a profitability mindset. Most lawyers focus on cash flow. Your job is to evolve the firm away from “gut” analysis based on work-in-progress and to get the proper financial picture. There is also an opportunity to offer advanced reporting. This can be a revenue add-on.

Why are you meeting? An accounting person is hired for one of three reasons: a new firm is being established, something isn’t working, or the attorney is outsourcing a task that was done internally? These answers reveal much about what the task needs to be.

New firm: Great opportunity to lay the foundation of the software tools and workflows. Create expectations related to data and reporting. Start out on the right foot.

Something isn’t working: This means someone was in charge and they didn’t get the job done. This could be the person’s incompetence, or it could be the firm’s inability to follow a sound workflow. You would suspect cleanup, but one needs to dig deep as to why the problem happened, what was the root cause. If you don’t get at that, you may be the next problem that needs to be replaced, no matter how well you did.

Outsourcing: This drives a change in workflows. Internal to external always will require a recalibration of what they were doing and what they will need to do. This creates an opportunity to determine the workflow that works best for you and the client. Don’t settle for adopting their processes. Find common ground to create an optimal workflow.

If you’re an accounting professional looking to expand her business, check out our LeanLaw Accounting Pros program. We offer Resources, tech support, a free account, and REFERRALS. It’s a win for everyone.

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Our January online Meetup covered this topic as well. If you’d like to watch the recorded version, and see the Accounting Pro community in its natural habitat, click here.

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