Implementing the right technology tools for your family law practice will streamline operations and allow you to develop avenues for future growth.
By Karen D. Sparks, Divorce Financial Analyst and Lawyer
As you develop and refine a vision for your business, it is appropriate to take a deeper dive into your business finances to determine where you can streamline, edit and improve your bottom line.
The process starts with analyzing how you do business and what software programs and/or apps are most suited to your processes. Additional considerations include mobile access, cloud vs. accounting software housed on your computer, and products that provide instant access to your profit and loss.
Here are some examples of categories to jump-start your review of products and services.
Leveraging Technology Tools to Improve Your Family Law Firm’s Financial Forecast
Technology Tools: Receivables Reimagined
Are you waiting for clients to send in or drop off a check for services? Are you sending office staff to the bank once or twice a week to record client deposits? If this is your method, you could be losing the ability to collect funds more efficiently.
If your bank, credit union or financial institution has a mobile banking application for check deposits, consider signing up for this feature and downloading the appropriate application to your mobile device(s). Whether you are in town and near your financial institution or not, this will allow you to handle the transaction right in the moment and eliminate the need to travel to the bank before it closes or, even worse, have to wait a few days to actually make the deposit. Accepting credit cards for our services as legal and financial professionals has become increasingly easier with products such as Square, Stripe, Braintree and other similar mobile processors. Integrating these products into your practice will facilitate a smooth process for receiving payments in real time and prevent a scenario of delayed payments for services.
In our professional practices, there is often a need to set up periodic recurring payments to assist clients in managing the costs for services.
Depending on how your practice is established, having the ability to simply obtain the client’s written authorization for recurring billing of fees that will be debited from the client’s credit card or other account is a time-saver and provides more stability for your accounts receivable. Third party payment processors such as Paypal, Authorize.net and similar products provide a robust platform for accepting payments, sending online invoices, issuing refunds, tracking receivables and setting up automated recurring payments.
However, make sure that you have taken the appropriate precautions in explaining in detail to the client exactly what the recurring charges will be and when those charges will be applied to the client’s credit card or account. The language of your authorization form or agreement should reflect this conversation. Finally, remember to update your written authorization with new signatures whenever the billing requirements change and/or increase.
The duration of financial and legal engagements can be long and unpredictable and having standard methods in place to receive payments can provide you with the assurance of income and give you freedom from spending time on billing tasks.
Technology Tools: Fine-Tuning Case Management
- Retainer/engagement documents. You never know when you will encounter a new potential client. Establishing the tools to effectively create and transmit the necessary documents for signature on the fly can eliminate the risk of losing potential business opportunities. Products such as DocuSign and Adobe Sign offer the flexibility to gain signatures and close the deal. You need to have access to templates on a flash drive or your laptop or tablet that you can edit or modify, upload to these services, set up the sections that require initials/signatures and send the document out to the client(s). These software tools allow you to set reminders and to send documents in the order that signatures are required etc. You receive a confirmation when documents are signed and you can print them out later or just leave them in your online account file or create an email folder on your computer.
- Calendar access and management. Does your staff have to wait to connect with you to find out whether you are available for a meeting or a client appointment? Are you the only one who “controls” your access? If so, consider the following facts: a. Staff efficiency is compromised b. You could be losing business offerings because individuals will call another professional who has availability to assist them c. Potentially too much time is being spent trying to manage time. Products such as Outlook and Teamup etc. take the guesswork out of figuring out how and when you and/or your staff is able to attend meetings, has conflicts, blocked time etc. Implementing a streamlined process with software gives you the assurance that the right people have access to the necessary information and office procedures have more focus and organization.
- Time tracking. Keeping accurate records of time spent on client work is, without a doubt, the next largest area where the financial ball slips through the cracks. Capturing all increments of time spent on client endeavors is critical. Focus on software programs and/or apps such as Bill4Time and Quickbooks that have a timer feature that you can use at the beginning of meetings, conference calls etc. to more accurately track the amount of time expended. Forgetting to account for all client tasks where your efforts are involved is equivalent to leaving that money on the table. You know you don’t want to do that!
- Projects. Is your firm retained on a large case or task requiring the input of several members of your staff? Is more effort being spent trying to follow the latest email thread, figuring out who is doing what or locating those key documents? Don’t waste valuable time with a process that is not productive. There is a way to get a handle on this type of situation by integrating project management software such as Basecamp, Dropbox, Google Drive etc. Utilizing these tools will ensure that everyone stays connected and on task. All project members are interacting with the same information set and can provide focused commentary. Deliverable dates can be established and tracked thereby eliminating the negative situation of not reaching completion for client expectations.
Leveraging Technology Tools to Grow Your Bottom Line
Now is the time to consider remodeling your business’s financial house. Implementing the appropriate technology tools for your practice will streamline operations and allow you the mental freedom to develop avenues for future growth. Your bank account will thank you!
Karen D. Sparks, CDFA®, J.D. is the principal and owner of Divorce Financial Strategists™ of Santa Clara, CA. Client services are provided locally and nationwide for divorce and separation financial analysis and post-divorce financial implications. She is also a co-author of the Stress-Free Divorce. www.divorcefinancialstrategists.com
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