Keeping a trust account in order is unquestionably one of the bugbears of legal practice, particularly for the smaller practitioner.
While there are a variety of software and ‘Cloud-based’ alternatives, the fact is the implementation and administration of such systems can be both costly and time-consuming.
Further, with increased NZLS inspections, the need to ensure trust accounts are being properly administered is more important than ever.
With a raft of requirements and problems that the Law Society itself says it would like to see “less often” the question arises as to what is the best solution.
LawFuel spoke with the Legal Accounting Bureau (LAB), who have been handling law firm trust accounts for seven years and who currently service over 60 law firms nationally with their trust account services, although the staff have a collective quarter century of trust account experience behind them.
Bureau owner Kathy Kell (right) has worked for six law firms over 18 years, including a five year period administering the Auckland District Law Society’s law accounting bureau, prior to setting up LAB.
There’s no shortage of trust account experience, as well as a vast knowledge of some of the issues faced by law firms when it comes to compliance and the effective running of their trust account.
Whilst there are a range of software solutions in the market, LAB is able to work with them to provide support by logging into the system to manage the firm’s trust account. Alternatively, accountants or lawyers may use the LAB’s own software, which is Junior Partner, and then log in remotely to view the firm ledgers.
The advantage of LAB’s service is its ability to handle work for sole practitioners and smaller to medium-sized firms (up to around 10 staff) who do not need a full time trust accountant.
The work can be handled daily or weekly with the ability to easily log into the database, thus providing a highly cost effective solution without the requirements and obligations that go with having a full- or part-time employee.
Kathy Kell says they are very happy to advise on software requirements and what the software needs to be able to do. “We try and remind people of what they need to ask in terms of the software they need.”
The Bureau will also “slot into a firm,” as Kathy Kells says, and use whatever trust account software they already use.
“We get set up with remote access ( restricted to only the trust a/c) – it is reliable and secure.
“Remote access has come a long way in the last ten years. We log into solicitors trust a/cs all over New Zealand and you would not know you were working on a computer in the South Island. If feels and acts just like your own computer). We almost never experience lag times or lost connections. The internet has become very reliable.”
Among the issues that arise for many clients, usually picked up very quickly, are the following:
Payment of funds that are on term deposit and have not been taken off deposit
Overlooking the need for a journal
Overpaying through miscalculation or addition error on the client statement.
The advantage of the service is the ability to act as an objective third party, which indeed they are, so as to pick up such errors and remedy them very quickly.
Service & Performance
Trust accounting packages promise performance and efficiency, but having an ‘outsourced’ administrator can ensure that the appropriate levels of performance are being achieved by the law firm user.
The LAB’s ability to work with the major providers like OneLaw, JuniorPartner, ActionStep, Infinity, Xero and others means that the headaches that can detract a lawyer from his or her fee-earning work is removed quickly and easily.
For Kathy Kell and her team, it’s all about doing what they love – which is helping lawyers do what they love best, and removing the headache of trust account administration.
“It’s not a headache for us,” says Kathy. “It’s the job we love too.”