Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog
Category: Financial ManagementLater »
Jun 29, 2007
We are often asked about skill requirements for office managers/bookkeepers in small law firms. (Six attorney and under firms) Many law firms in the six attorney and under size have shared with us their frustration in staffing the billing and accounting function. Often their investment in computerized billing and accounting systems fails to yield desired results due to poor accounting and management skills. Many small law firms assume that legal secretaries also have requisite accounting and management skills. Our experience has been that often this is not the case. Training, skills, and work behaviors are often different. Bookkeepers/accountants and secretaries are different animals. Many small firms are better off creating a accounting/bookkeeping position and staffing the position with a qualified bookkeeper/accountant. For many firms under six attorneys that have fully automated the billing and accounting function and have distributed time entry, this is not a full time position. In such instances many firms have either recruited a part-time bookkeeper/accountant solely for the accounting function or have created a combined position of office manager/bookkeeper. This justified a full-time position. Look for the following skills when evaluating candidates. Professional training in bookkeeping and accounting fundamentals as well as management principles.
A basic bookkeeping class should be a minimum requirement.
While a college degree should not be a requirement for the small firm, some college courses in accounting and management is desirable.
Two years+ prior experience in a bookkeeping/accounting position in a professional services firm such as law, accounting, consulting, etc.
Prior experience in a law firm bookkeeping/accounting position is desirable.
Experience with computers and accounting software as well as spreadsheets. On hands experience with the accounting software that the law firm uses is a plus. However, this is often not possible.
Prior office management experience in a law or other professional services firm if this is to be a combined position.
Professional and able to deal with multiple demands, multiple masters, and the politics of a law office.
Nov 27, 2006
As we approach the Christmas holiday season we need to begin thinking about next year. Here are some suggestions:
- Take a serious look at the firm's present position in the marketplace. Review financials, compare against financial ratios, compare with both firm past history and against law firm benchmarks. Examine how well the firm is competing. Is the firm too dependent on a narrow base of clients? Is the practice at risk? Conduct a client survey and obtain client feedback both on firm performance as well as possible unmet needs and opportunities. Consider a comprehensive management review.
- Formulate business goals and develop a strategic business plan as a roadmap for the future.
- Design and simplify business reports designed to measure the goals identified in the strategic business plan. Strive for a one page summary as the primary report. Require all timekeepers in the firm to submit personal one page business plans which in addition to outlining goals for the year provided fee revenue goals with an element of stretch. The goals should have a stretch component but yet be realistic and attainable. These plans should be approved by the Executive Committee, Managing Partner or the Partnership.
- In all of our client engagements we typically discover that the root cause of most problems is poor internal and external communications. Poor client service, staff competency and morale, interoffice conflict, and client defections typically can be traced back to poor communications. Work on improving internal communications with firm personnel and external communications with clients and prospective clients. Yes, you have to have meetings now and then. Devise systems to improve communications and implement properly. If a meeting is required – conduct it properly, use agendas and take minutes. Use your email systems. Match the richness of the communication method with the nature and depth of the message to be communicated.
- Improve relationships with your clients. Lack of responsivenesshas is the number one reason for client dissatisfaction.
- Find ways to focus the firm and foster accountability from all.
- Undertake a few projects at a time that can be realistically accomplished. Delegate tasks across the firm. All firm personnel should have marketing responsibilities – from the receptionist to the senior partners and everyone else in between. Databases must be maintained, newsletters and articles written, presentations given, clients to be wined and dined, etc. There is work for everyone.
- Law firms must adopt management structures that enables the firm to act decisively and quickly. Structures that do not support such a culture must be replaced.
- Come to grips with the fact that times are changing and law firms are going to have to change and reinvent their firms dramatically in the next few years.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC
Nov 21, 2006
I have seen more law firms and other business firms destroyed by poor cash flow than any other calamity. Cash flow is what keeps owners, partners and administrators awake at night. Many of our law firm clients have asked us for tips on getting paid. Here are some thoughts and suggestions.