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Accounting for Law Firms: A Guide Including Best Practices

Balance Sheet and Income Statement
The transaction records roll up to create your firm’s financial statements. The balance sheet shows your firm’s asset, liability, and equity balances as of a given day. The income statement shows your firm’s aggregate revenues and expenses over a specified timeframe. One of the most important parts of accounting is major accounts, which are categories that are used to classify financial transactions.

  1. What’s most important is that you get the details right so that you can stay compliant with ethics rules and help your firm grow to its full potential.
  2. Insights on running a successful law firm with case management, client intake, billing and payments, tech innovation, and more.
  3. Related articles on how to run a more efficient, profitable law firm.
  4. The firm could face compliance issues, and their books will be inaccurate (skewing the value of any accounting data derived from them).
  5. With this in mind, lawyers need to have the right bank accounts set up.

Your best bet is likely to hire both a legal bookkeeper and a legal accountant. While it’s essential to understand the fundamentals of accounting for law firms, you still aren’t an accountant or bookkeeper. Hiring professionals is common for law firms, and it’s an easy route to peace of mind. So, with double-entry accounting, every financial transaction gets sorted into a specific category (assets, liabilities, or equity). Double entry accounting is a helpful practice for lawyers to know about, as it provides an extra guard against errors.

What to look for in a legal accountant

With streamlined financial management, law firms can optimize their operations, make informed decisions, and demonstrate financial transparency to stakeholders. Conversely, cash basis accounting recognizes revenue when you’re paid (i.e., when the cash is received) and expenses when they’re paid. The tax implications of this method also allow your firm to pay tax on income once it’s received and in the bank. Every law firm has a responsibility to stay compliant with ethics regulations, and your firm is no exception. Ethics rules vary in each jurisdiction, but there are definitely some basics when it comes to accounting for law firms. Complete and compliant accounting produces more accurate financial statements.

Benefits of using Clio Manage with QuickBooks Online

Besides, the Chart of Accounts should include a Trust Liability account where all trust bank transactions will be posted. The funds are owed to the client until they are earned by the lawyer or disbursed in some other way. Remember to create separate general ledger expense accounts to differentiate between expenses incurred for your firm and expenses to be billed and reimbursed by your clients. Accounting for law firms is the process of recording and managing a firm’s financial activities.

State bar association rules require law practices to keep meticulous records so there is no impropriety when dealing with Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA), or any other trust accounts. The rules vary by state, but at a minimum, attorneys are required to maintain “complete records.” The American Bar Association publishes a list of recordkeeping requirements by state. A well-structured law firm chart of accounts sample chart of accounts is the backbone of efficient financial management and reporting within a law firm. By establishing a clear hierarchy based on account types, such as assets, liabilities, revenue, and expenses, it provides a standardized framework for recording and classifying financial data. If your law firm doesn’t already have business bank accounts, it’s time to open them.

Importance of a Chart of Accounts in Law Firms

While at first financial statements read like a foreign language, you can master them in short order. This statement is especially important for stakeholders within your firm, as it showcases how much equity they hold in your business. Plus, it shows how much available owners’ equity you have to reinvest back into your firm as expansion, new equipment, or debt payoff. Armed with this statement, you and your partners can decide the best way to move forward. For many businesses, the key is finding the sweet spot for both price and volume. Offer your services for less, and you might see an increase in volume.

Committing to accounting for law firms will allow you to be better equipped to identify growth opportunities. Effective accounting for law firms is critical to your firm’s success. To ensure your firm’s financial statements are accurate, complete, and up-to-date, you need to use sound bookkeeping for attorneys.

Plus, most small and solo law firms maintain their books on a cash basis. This means you should not include the biggest accounts at one particular time on the balance sheet. In the circumstance that your client resides in a state that allows General Retainers, we recommend you set up a Suspense account to track a retainer in your QuickBooks chart of accounts. The account, depending on the specific state rules, might be an income or liability account.

It also ensures analysis of income, expenses, assets, and liabilities. It facilitates streamlined bookkeeping, simplifies tax preparation, and ensures compliance with regulatory requirements. With a comprehensive chart of accounts, law firms gain valuable insights into their financial health. This allows them to make informed decisions, monitor profitability, and evaluate the success of different practice areas or client engagements.

Additionally, assets can be utilized as a buffer against financial losses. For instance, if a law firm experiences a decline in revenue or an unexpected expense, it may be able to sell assets in order to generate cash and compensate for the losses. Likewise, if the law firm experiences a period of low cash flow, it may be able to use its assets as collateral to secure a line of credit or other form of short-term financing. In this article, we will explore the Chart of Accounts used in legal accounting, including assets, liabilities, equity, revenue, and expenses. We will define each account, explain its importance, and provide examples of how it is used in legal accounting.

Without proper attorney bookkeeping, it’s impossible to track what money is coming (and leaving your firm). This can cause serious issues and stunt your firm’s growth (more on that later). This concept holds true for anyone in your family that you employ as well. We know lots of spouses running firm operations, marketing, client intake, accounting, and being the chief bottle washer. Your statement of cash flows (or cash flow statement) shows you where your cash comes from and where it goes in a month. As the owner, you need to know if you have enough cash in the bank to fund operations each month.

The items are automatically added to a customer invoice at billing time. Plus, no commitment or credit card is required, and you can cancel anytime. You can go with an accrual or cash accounting method in the US, and the difference is mostly about timing.

Use an accounting solution designed for the legal industry—like Clio Manage’s legal and trust accounting features paired with QuickBooks Online’s accounting software. By using these two softwares together, you can create a comprehensive accounting system for your firm. Accounts payable is the amount of money the law firm owes to its vendors and suppliers for goods and services received but not yet paid for.