Are you going to be left behind?

Lawyers, Why Do You Need a Online Presence?

Because you don’t want to be left behind. People no longer reach for the Yellow Pages when they need a lawyer. They rely on friends and the internet. And if they use a friend, they then search the internet to look you up. So if you don’t have an online presence, you are probably leaving money on the table.

Social media or social networking should be a part of every lawyer’s marketing and business development plan. When a lawyer sits down to talk to me about his practice and how to get more clients, the discussion always includes a social media plan with the end goal being to leverage his/her online presence to build more relationships with referral sources and potential clients that then convert into new business.  It’s an even playing field no matter your age, type of practice, location or size of firm. If you have not started building your r online network, it’s not too late to start.

A well designed business development plan should include a social media component that moves you from hanging out on the sidelines to actually playing in the game. The sidelines are a great place to observe and plan for how you are going to participate and interact on social media but eventually you have to join the game. You have to determine what your level of participation will be, what platforms you will use and how you will interact with your new online community. The great thing about this game is that you are in control of your own success, limited only by your own schedule, effort and time. It’s quite powerful and the fun part is seeing your online connections become in-person connections.

Peggy Gruenke, Owner/Consultant LegalBizSuccess

Specializing in Law Firm Practice Management  and Business Development solo and small firm attorneys. Peggy can be found on Twitter @PeggyGruenkeLinkedIn and at www.legalbizsuccess.com.  (513) 315-5750

Lawyers: Managing Your Online Presence and Directories

Tagul - Gorgeous tag cloudsOne of the wonderful things about the internet and social media is that it’s a great way to create and build an online presence without the investment of a lot of money. It can be time consuming but managing your time can be much less expensive than managing a marketing budget.  A powerful tool for accomplishing this creation and growth of your internet presence are directory listings.

Directory listings, are in short, like an online version of the yellow pages but much more powerful with the addition of profiles, links, video and reviews. There are hundreds of them and deciding which ones you want to be listed in can be overwhelming.  For example: Avvo, InfoUSA, Google+ Local, Bing Places, Yahoo Local, Lawyers.com, MerchantCircle.com, Yelp.com, plus many more. I see many lawyers with incomplete profiles on a number of directories. Why do you have to worry about these online directories?

Directories have risen to a level of importance  because Google moved its local search returns to its main page with the introduction of Google+ Local (formally Google Places). How Google determines which local business listings should be on the first page of Google’s search results depends a great deal on directory listings. So if you are in 5, 10, 15 or more directory listings, you are going to look good to Google’s ranking algorithm. And having reviews with your listing makes you even more popular in Google’s eyes.

While you want to be in many directories, deciding which ones to be in and entering and managing the data can be time consuming. Plus, doing it wrong can ruin your online presence. You will want to make sure you do not have duplicate or incorrect listings and you want to use keywords in each directory. Here is more information about online directories
 in an article by the folks at Get Noticed Get Found.

If you would like help creating and managing your online directories, adhering to the ethical rules, please give me a call. I can provide this service to you at  nominal one-time charge. I am also available to do in-house CLE on the  “Your Social Media Presence – Adhering to Ethics Rules While Being Social.”

Peggy Gruenke, Owner/Consultant LegalBizSuccess

Specializing in Law Firm Practice Management  and Business Development solo and small firm attorneys. Peggy can be found on Twitter @PeggyGruenkeLinkedIn and at www.legalbizsuccess.com.  (5130 315-5750

 

IOLTA Tip #3: Properly Maintaining IOLTA Accounting Records

 

checkbookEvery lawyer who holds money for clients must have a system in place for maintaining and properly recording all transactions related to these funds. There are many resources available to read and review. In this article, I offer a few tips to make sure you have proper accounting procedures in place for handling client funds held in your IOLTA account.

 

Here are a few basic facts before discussing accounting procedures:

 

  • The “IOLTA” acronym stands for “Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts”;
  • The basic nature of an IOLTA account is that it is, in essence, an escrow account, for the deposit of unearned client funds. The interest earned on these accounts generates revenue for the state’s legal aid fund.

 

  • Lawyers are required to send itemized bills to clients at the time the lawyer withdraws funds from a trust account to pay themselves for services. These itemized bills should show:
    • the services provided with a description and dollar amount;
    • the amount withdrawn from the client’s trust account to pay the bill;
    • the amount of funds the lawyer continues to hold in the client’s trust account after withdrawal for payment of the invoice.
  • Lawyers should not make withdrawals from trust accounts by ATM or checks payable to “Cash” and are required to use pre-numbered checks.

 

For the trust accounting, you also need:

 

1)    The trust bank account balance to match the trust liability account balance.

 

2)    A ledger for each client’s trust balance, the total of which equals the trust bank account balance.

 

3)    A detailed ledger, for each client, showing the ins and outs of the trust monies.

 

When it comes to your trust accounting, there’s one requirement that affects lawyers and other legal professionals and doesn’t exist in most other professions. It’s called the 3-way reconciliation report. The Rules of Professional Conduct require lawyers to demonstrate that their financial records accurately reflect all of the transactions in which a client has given them monies “in Trust.”  The “three-way” reconciliation accomplishes this by comparing the total of the individual client ledgers and the bank charges with the balance in the check register. Both amounts should be the same. http://goentrust.com/what-is-a-3-way-reconciliation/

 

How  a 3-way reconciliation works:

 

  1. The first part of the reconciliation is the Checkbook Register.
  2. The second piece is the Bank Statement
  3. The third piece is the IOLTA Balance Register (or Trial Balance). This is a report of all client trust transactions, deposits and withdraws, showing a final balance for each client.

 

To complete the 3-way match you first reconcile the Checkbook Register to the Bank Statement.  The Bank Statement must match the Checkbook Register after taking into account any withdrawals or deposits that have not yet cleared the bank.  Most people are familiar with this process as it is the same as balancing your personal checkbook.

 

Once that is complete, you need to make sure the Checkbook Register matches the total on the IOLTA Balance Register.

 

The first step shows you have recorded in your checkbook all of the transactions that cleared the bank.  The second step shows you have recorded all of the transactions which affect the client’s IOLTA balance.

 

There are plenty of IOLTA resources out there. It’s a matter of accessing those resources. The best thing that you can do with respect to IOLTA accounting is to access the available information, and to learn as much as you can. Then, create a system for managing your IOLTA accounting, and follow, in addition to the ethical rules, your own internal procedures, which should include monthly three-way reconciliation.

 

Peggy Gruenke, Chief Operating Officer and Business Development. More articles available on my blog LawBizCOO.

Tip #1: Handling Credit Card Payments and IOLTA

Tips and Techniques to Properly Manage Your IOLTA Funds (Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts):  Mismanaging an IOLTA account can have terrible consequences on a lawyer’s career, sometimes to the point of disbarment. For the month of December, I will be doing a series of posts to address questions you may have when handling your IOLTA accounting. This is an important topic whether you are just starting your law practice or if you have been practicing for years.

For this first post, let’s focus on the term commingling. Commingling attorney funds with client funds occurs when:

  1. The client’s funds are combined with the attorney’s personal funds;
  2. An attorney keeps his own money in the IOLTA account, this includes:
    • Depositing money from a client into your IOLTA account that is a payment for an invoice for services performed;
    • Failing to promptly withdraw earned fees from the trust account. Once you have undertaken the work and the client agrees that you have earned the fees, you have an immediate right to the funds on deposit in the IOLTA account intended to pay these fees.  If you fail to promptly withdraw these earned fees from the trust account, you are commingling your funds (the earned fees) with client’s funds.

Today let’s look at the proper way to handle credit card payments from clients. Accepting credit card payments for advance fee deposit, while very acceptable, creates some practical issues that you need to decide how to handle. The options below assume that all credit card fees are being deducted from the operating bank account.

Option1: Set up two merchant service accounts:

  • One for credit card payments on invoices to be deposited into the operating account, and;
  • One for payments that are advance fee deposits to be deposited into IOLTA.

If your current merchant service provider says they can’t create two accounts to differentiate the credit card receipts, it will be too expensive or they can’t withdraw all fees from the operating account,  please call me. You are probably paying too much already and I can recommend a vendor who can save you some money.

Option 2: Deposit all credit card transactions into your IOLTA account.

  • Whoever is making the deposit entries into your accounting system, must have the ability to determine if the payment is an advance fee deposit or a payment for fees earned and invoiced. If it is for earned fees, your accounting person must promptly write a check out of IOLTA payable to the law firm for deposit into the operating account.

Option 3: Deposit all credit card payments into your operating account.

  • If this is the procedure you choose to set-up, you must promptly remove all funds that are advance fee deposits. You accomplish this by writing a check out of the operating account, payable to your law firm, with reference to client name and matter, and deposit this check into the client’s IOLTA trust account.

Option #1 is the best practice for making sure no commingling of funds occurs. It is more efficient and less prone to errors. If you aren’t satisfied with the current procedures you are using for managing your IOLTA transactions, or other accounting functions, please contact me. I can refer you to someone who will be able to make this process easier and more automated – no matter what accounting system you are using.

Peggy Gruenke, Chief Operating Officer and Business Development, pgruenke@lawbizcoo.com

More articles available on my blog LawBizCOO and follow me on Twitter