I am a partner in a 14 attorney firm. Our bookkeeper has been with us for 20 years. We have a time and billing system, a separate bookkeeping system, and a separate database for clients, and something else for trust accounting. The other partners and myself do not know the name of the software that we are using, don't know how to access the software, and we have to ask the bookkeeper for any financial information that we require. We feel like "hostages". She gets offended when we ask questions. When we do receive information we don't know how to read or interpret much of the information. How can we get control of our firm back?
It is imperative that owners and partners in a law firm have access to financial information on a timely basis, understand the information, and use the information in a proactive way to manage the practice. We suggest:
- The owner, or an appointed partner(s) in larger firms, obtain a basic level of understanding in basic accounting/bookkeeping and law firm financial management.
- The owner, or an appointed partner(s) in larger firms, obtain detailed training on the accounting software system(s) along-side the bookkeeper when the system is implemented. In addition to general operation of the software, special training should also be obtained on interpretation and use of the management reports.
- In your current situation – this may be a good time to consider upgrading your system and at that time obtain training on the new system, review the roles of all parties, and current procedures.
- Insure that you have accounting controls in place and appropriate segregation of accounting duties.
- Outline your expectations and requirements of the bookkeeper, meet with her/him, and communicate appropriately.
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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC