Choosing the right accounting software

With new accounting products entering the market, there are several factors to consider before choosing a program for your law firm.

Traditionally, there have been a couple of major players in law firm accounting software, but the growth of cloud computing has led to many new entries bursting onto the scene that are worth watching. There are more choices now as opposed to even 10 years ago.

The newer products may offer a more flexible experience for remote use on mobile phones or tablets. More established programs have the advantage of making it easier to train new staff since they may have used the software in the past.

The Law Society of Ontario (LSO) obligations around record-keeping and trust accounts mean that law firms and sole practitioners have to make sure they remain compliant.

The LSO isn’t going to tell you to use a specific type of software, but it’s up to lawyers to find a program that does the proper record-keeping that is required by their governing body.

Essentially, that means getting a system that is above the standard accounting software made for small businesses.

Some programs are good for billing and client management and are cheaper than the practice-management specific programs but, for example, they may not run your trust account the way you need it to.

You have to be careful when making those types of decisions — if your software doesn’t do it, then how are you going to remain compliant? Your trust accounts and client base are susceptible parts of your practice, so there’s going to be a cost to that.

That sensitive data doesn’t just include dollar amounts but also the personal information of your clients.

Those are key pieces of information that you want to ensure are kept safe.

When researching new accounting software, it’s vital to look at the database to make sure it’s reliable and to consider how your staff will integrate with the software program, and how it needs to integrate with your current software programs.

You may have lawyers, clerks and other staff members who will need to access the system, even if it’s just entering their time dockets. A good program sculpts these data-entry screens for ease of use. If staff can enter their time quickly and get billed out handily and have a system built in for receivable follow-ups, then the program will pay for itself in profitability.

We recommend asking software providers for a demonstration and a trial period. As well, don’t hesitate to ask for references if it’s a program you haven’t seen before.

Ask if they can provide you with the contact information of some of their current clients to get their experiences with the program.

It’s painful to change accounting programs, so you want to ensure this decision is going to be in place for a long period.