QuickBooks Online Advanced for law firms: Custom users, fields and app stack
Last March, our accounting firm signed with a medium-size law firm in Nevada. The attorneys were interested in migrating away from their desktop-centric accounting platform, which was law-specific but clunky, to a more robust cloud-based solution. When we looked at their options, QuickBooks® Online Advanced became the right platform for them.
At first, I was unsure about QuickBooks Online Advanced, and how it would work for my business and my law firm clients. I even felt frustrated with it, but once I started using this QuickBooks product, my opinion completely changed.
As I embraced the features of the program, I was able to create an easy transition for everyone, from the eldest managing partner to the newest (and youngest) staff member. After all, making clients happy is the final destination, and it is extremely satisfying to take a client from a manual, data-entry heavy product to a product of the future.
My happiest moment is when they say, “That’s all I have to do?” I call that a sweet success!
Working with law firms
Lawyers have a specific reporting requirement for all money spent or received on behalf of their clients. The tracking of these trust accounts requires a new liability account every time a new case (matter) is started. To complicate the issue, the life cycle of most cases tends to extend over three to five years, requiring the additional account to remain open until long after the case has been settled. As you could imagine, reaching the 250 chart of account limits (the plan limits for QuickBooks Online Simple Start, Essentials and Plus) would happen very quickly for any firm with two or more partners. With QuickBooks Online Advanced, there are no chart of account limits, so there is no issue. You can have as many accounts open and, more importantly, client matters, as necessary.
When I was considering whether QuickBooks Online Advanced would be right for my law firm client, three questions came to mind:
- What would the benefits be for my client?
- What would the benefits be for me, as the accountant?
- What would we gain from moving to this product?
Why QuickBooks Online Advanced is right for my growing clients
QuickBooks Online Advanced is advertised as a product for growing firms. Thanks to our current economy, most of the firms I work with have been adding to their headcount to keep up with the new growth that continues to keep them busy. In fact, IBISWorld recently reported that over the next five years, revenue is expected to increase at an annualized rate of 2.2 percent to $331.4 billion, including an increase of 1.9 percent in 2019. As the economy continues to improve, the industry will benefit from increased corporate activity.
As these law firms expand, they add to their teams. They need more administrative people to handle the increasing workload. More paralegals and attorneys are hired. For these growing workforces, QuickBooks Online Advanced makes it possible for each new employee to get the specific access they need.
This firm I worked on had a rather large team of 15 people:
- 2 managing partners
- 4 attorneys
- 2 paralegals
- 1 tax professional
- 2 outside accounting firms
- 1 bookkeeper
- 1 lead admin
- 2 administrative assistants
Not all team members needed access to QuickBooks Online Advanced, but there was definitely a need for tailored user types. Both managing partners, the bookkeeper and the lead administrator were given full access. One of the benefits of QuickBooks Online Advanced was the ability for the outside accounting firms to each have their own user seats. Typically, these types of seats come with an extra cost to the client, but with QuickBooks Online Advanced, it is included with the program. The administrative assistants help with day-to-day operations in their own unique areas of the software. They do not need to see payroll or other sensitive data, so we streamlined their user permissions, as pictured below:
In addition, according to the ABA Journal, the legal industry is about to go through a changing of the guard, much like the accounting profession. As more millennial accountants continue to enter into the industry, the number of firms looking to move to the cloud will also increase. This presents an amazing opportunity for an accountant working with the legal profession and implementing QuickBooks Online Advanced.
Implementing a cloud-based product will attract these younger attorneys, who will soon become business owners. It is my experience that this trend is already beginning. The next generation attorney wants to be able to access their data from their phone, tablet and computer. They are eager to automate, so why not be ahead of the curve? By using QuickBooks Online Advanced with app stack that includes the legal software LeanLaw, a document management application such as Hubdoc, secure client communication and file storage app Liscio, Intuit® Full Service Payroll, and the PCI compliant merchant services app, LawPay, you have the workflow for the future!
Workflow and app stack
Here’s a breakdown of the apps that work with QuickBooks Online Advanced and help me help my clients with streamlining their workflow:
Liscio. Client communication that is secure is vitally important with any niche. Liscio provides military-grade security. Your emails are retained by account, or by your client. All files are securely stored under the matter name and tagged for easy retrieval. Liscio also has a practice management feature for secure communication between your team, yourself and the client.
LeanLaw. LeanLaw was a dream come true for my client. The four attorneys and two paralegals did not have to be in the accounting software; using LeanLaw allows for the attorneys and paralegals to docket their time to stay on top of client matters and billing. The admins are able to scan and drop the receipts and bills into Hubdoc. They code them to the matter and to the account “advanced client cost.” Once this data is pushed into QuickBooks Online Advanced, the reimbursable expenses are “automagically” available in LeanLaw for billing through its two-way sync. The attorney’s time, and any advanced costs, are available to be added to the draft invoice. The attorney approves the invoice in LeanLaw, and it’s pushed or generated into QuickBooks Online Advanced.
LawPay. The LawPay app allows for clients to pay their invoice by credit card, and LawPay guarantees your firm accepts payments in compliance with ABA and IOLTA guidelines.
Intuit Full-Service Payroll. This is simple to use and takes the burden of paying the tax liabilities and filing tax returns off of the accountant’s shoulders. This payroll service is inside QuickBooks Online Advanced. Accuracy is guaranteed and they have same day direct deposit!
As you can see, this app stack works smoothly and is streamlined. The data entry is minimal. The pieces fit together, and the client remains compliant, which is so vitally important when working with attorneys and law firms.
My final piece of advice when working with law firms and older partners who are not 100 percent on board with moving to the cloud is to use the Custom Fields option in QuickBooks Online Advanced. Custom Fields can make this transition effortless because you can give those partners the fields that they are accustomed to. If prior software had searchable fields, such as matter name, timekeeper initials, file number, and date of the last trust in their old software, add them to QuickBooks Online Advanced.
In the example of the timekeeper’s initials below, I selected the drop-down list. This saves us from using a general text field, where you could experience data entry errors when someone accidentally adds a middle initial or enters a typo, creating a chaotic, unmanageable list.
You can have up to 10 active custom fields in QuickBooks Advanced. They can be used on invoices, estimates, and purchase orders. These are searchable fields and can be added in your customized reporting. This gives the accountant the ability to design a program that is unique to the industry you are working on within your niche.
Favorite features: Custom users, custom fields, and app stack
To recap, my favorite features for working with QuickBooks Online Advanced and law firms are ones that make the program customized for the user. I work with a variety of different types of firms and I can easily personalize the program to meet each client’s needs. Custom users are wonderful for the larger firm with multiple users. The workflow I shared is great for automation and fewer clicks! And, custom fields really allow for getting the data points that the client really wants to track added to reporting and their forms.
Remember that adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover?” This certainly applies to my experience with QuickBooks Online Advanced. I realized that my initial frustration has turned to bliss because I am able to razzle-dazzle my clients with the features and the customization that the platform provides. So, my advice to you is to give it a try! It could be a game-changer for your accounting practice.