Legal accounting and practice management

legal accounting
05 Jul 2020


A generic title? Yes. We admit it. Legal accounting and practice management are not a very alluring mix of words. And yet, its function is absolutely necessary for legal practitioners. One might say absolutely crucial.

Let’s be honest, as much as legal practitioners would love to be in practice just to help people – that is simply not the case. Not really. Money is money and it needs to be accounted for and a practice needs to be effectively run. Fair enough. But haven’t we heard this all before? Is this not all an accepted norm? Why the repetition?

At this point, we would like to dispel your fears – this is not just another article on the same generic topic on practice management. Yes, it touches on some widely accepted principles, however we aim to explain exactly how legal accounting and practice management can assist you. In plain language (no fancy jargon here). So read on and let us explain what has changed and what has remained the same where legal accounting and practice management are concerned.

The legal profession needs to embrace technology

For far too long, the worlds of technology and law have rarely met. There have been numerous articles published over the years about the legal profession needing to change. Needing to adapt and most importantly needing to evolve at the same pace as their clients. The world is changing. And the needs of the people and businesses within the world are changing with it. Clients expect legal practices to increasingly use technology, as they are doing. Be more efficient and cost effective. And while some law firms have eagerly taken up the challenge to become more “tech savvy”, others have not. And the question one has to ask is “why”?

Being ”online” has become a central force in almost every industry. Online marketing, web based service provisions and the use of social media are now regarded as crucial, both in the ways that you attract new clients but also in the ways that you interact with your current client base. Google (and other search engines) as well as social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn have changed the way consumers locate and search for legal practitioners, whether by geographical location or area of specialisation. However, the important thing for most clients (especially in today’s recession) is cost effectiveness – the term “Bang for your buck” comes to mind. Location is not really high ranking when it comes to the attractiveness of one firm over another. After all, isn’t everyone available online anyway? Well no. Not yet. And that is the very point.

Whilst law firms and other legal practitioners may have embraced online search engines to conduct research, most firms still rely on the accepted status quo – physical legal files, briefs to counsel, logging of billable hours and manually attending to invoices at every month end. It is tedious, limiting and does not, in any way, embrace the fourth industrial revolution we are all facing. This is not what the future lawyer looks like and is certainly not what tomorrow’s CEO’s will expect from their legal teams.

In an article titled A day in the life of the future lawyer we are given a glimpse into the life of the lawyer of the future

“Being connected through the internet of things means arranging the day’s agenda, absorbing the morning news and responding to overnight developments in the practice at overseas offices. A file that needs to be shared with a client has been processed, not just in terms of the content relevance, but also through the most efficient channel”.

It seems almost futuristic, but it isn’t. It simply involves being online and being connected. Being able to seamlessly work no matter where you are. Being able to provide legal advice, draft opinions or commercially sound contracts and to do so effectively, efficiently and by saving your client money.

In an article titled Challenges and opportunities for the legal profession, one crucial element pertinent to this discussion is set out below:

“Many practitioners now work off-site and even on a more flexible basis. This, however, requires an investment in appreciate technological solutions to enable the legal practitioners in the firm to service clients offsite”.

But, the legal profession, as everyone is acutely aware, is very slow to change. Very slow to embrace technology. The idea of working from home or anywhere but at the office was simply not a priority for most firms. Not when billable hours were at stake.

Enter the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Working from home (or anywhere)

The worldwide lockdown necessitated by the rapid spread of the Covid -19 virus resulted in law firms needing to close their doors and send their lawyers home with an instruction to as best as they could. In South Africa during Levels 5 and 4 of lockdown, courts were only dealing with urgent matters and usually remotely via Skype or Zoom. Unprecedented. And for a profession that is slow to change, it proved to be a challenge for most law firms and legal practitioners. The majority were simply not prepared. How can one operate their entire practice remotely?

But Richard Susskind, author of Tomorrow’s Lawyers, states that “Whenever there is significant change, there is plenty of chances for new people to come in and make things significantly better”. And that is actually the point. By being forced to embrace the “new normal” and work from home, lawyers are being forced to embrace technology at a more rapid rate than they usually would. Being able to properly function, no matter where you are is crucial. A game changer. And will continue to be long after Covid-19 stops making headlines. As Susskind said – taking a significant change and ensuring overall betterment is a “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade” type of idea.

In an article titled Implications of COVID-19 on the legal sector, KPMG stated that

“The legal industry, and the legal function within many businesses, is at an early stage of transformation. The impact of Covid-19 on business will change this. It will show that a business needs to be able to assess its legal obligations and exposures, and strategically align technology, systems and processes to enable simple things like finding and analyzing legal contracts quickly and efficiently, rather than relying on the human capital of its internal or external lawyers. It will help drive transformation of the ‘operating model’ for the delivery of legal services – from the way teams are structured, how they operate and the architecture of systems and tools that support the delivery of services. These changes will be enabled by the availability, and broader use of, a range of different providers of those services, as advisory, tech-enabled products and insourced and outsourced solutions come together to provide business with a “portfolio” approach to providing legal support to business”.

Law firms will, in all likelihood, remain changed. Being able to work from anywhere is key to not only surviving the setbacks of the Covid-19 Pandemic and its related barriers to business, but to also thrive in the future – lawyers need to evolve as their clients do. And their clients, by all accounts, are evolving at a rapid pace.

Is your law firm ready to take on the challenge that comes with being technologically advanced? If not, why?

Everything needs to be online

Working from home has some big benefits. Firstly it reduces office rental and overall day-to-day running costs, it prevents wasted time commuting, prevents spread of seasonal flu’s and time off work. It also enables an improved work/life balance. And that will appeal to all members of staff – happy staff are productive staff. It’s a win-win. Most importantly, it will save time, make your practice more efficient and will allow tasks to be completed at an expedited rate. Something your tech savvy and forward thinking clients will be on the lookout for (if they are not already).

So how do you go about achieving this “state of Nirvana” and have your entire practice operating remotely? It’s simple really. You need a full featured web-based legal accounting and practice management system. Have everything at your fingertips in order to operate online. With a web based system all you need is an internet connection and you can have a full capacity legal practice which can pretty much be accessed on any device. Including your smartphone (now there’s an idea).

And this is where online legal accounting and practice management providers step in. An entrepreneurially minded company specifically predicting future trends and positioning their product offerings accordingly should be key prerequisites when choosing a provider. One such provider is AJS Legal Accounting and Practice Management. They are a leading brand in legal accounting and practice management in South Africa and have been the provider of trusted business software applications for the legal and corporate markets since 1979. AJS offers a professional trust and business accounting system which includes practice management aspects such as document management, time recording, contacts management, FICA management and an asset register. And having a single provider on whose shoulders you can lay the system and the secure managed hosting platform, offers one absolute peace of mind. In addition, by ensuring that the software is enhanced and updated constantly, AJS ensures that it remains the most comprehensive legal and professional accounting software package in Southern Africa. It is clear that this isn’t their first Rodeo.

And it is a no brainer. Really.

At the beginning of the article we said that we would highlight what has changed in legal accounting and practice management and what has remained the same. It is very simple. Covid-19 has necessitated the need to advance your legal practice and ensure continuity by having your entire practice exist online so that you can operate remotely. This change has come sooner rather than later and firms need to adapt as soon as possible or face becoming obsolete.

Taken from the AJS website directly, the following is apt –

“Ten years ago, law firms could survive without making use of the latest technology, but today firms have no choice but to use modern software and hardware to manage their operations. Aspects such as trust accounting, debt management, matter/case management, time recording, invoicing on demand, document production, and client reporting are all near-impossible without the aid of a competent legal accounting and practice management system. Put simply, every law firm needs to embrace technology in order to survive the challenges facing the profession today. There is just no other way around it.”

What hasn’t changed is the need for an appropriately advanced legal accounting and practice management system from a reliable partner. So, why not choose a market leader like AJS?

Whilst this topic did not start off as alluring, it does touch on some pressing issues facing legal practices today – work from anywhere, adapt, embrace technology and don’t just survive this new normal we find ourselves in, but thrive.

And we believe that by having your entire practice operating remotely (and thus not being affected by lockdowns and barriers to business), it has turned a once generic discussion on online legal accounting and practice management into something very alluring indeed.

To find out more, contact AJS on [email protected]

See also:

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
Alicia Koch

Alicia Koch is an admitted attorney with over 10 years PQE. She has worked in law firms, has had her own legal consulting company and has been an in-house legal... Read more about Alicia Koch


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