First Attorney-Client: Engagement Prep
This week is all about getting closer to the engagement letter and completing the file review. Back in the first post, I mentioned that you should charge for this service. In the second post, I talked about how you don't want to forget anything or forget to look at an area that may give you some concern and may mean that you need to make corrections. These specific areas are the chart of accounts, review the balance sheet, check the profit and loss. That's pretty much the high level of what the details were in last week's post.
To access this series from the beginning, here are links to the first one, here, where we discussed the initial client conversation. You meet our potential lead, George Smith and the initial questions to ask him to learn about his business and find his pain points.
In the second post, which dives into how you can look into figuring out what's wrong with the client's file as you give it that cursory review, seeing where they left off and if it's reconciled, and giving it a general overview.
So where do you go from there? How do you produce a professional-looking file review? There are a few more clarifying questions and some pretty neat apps to rock the proposal!
More Questions: We will start with the company information. A few questions to ask your client. What type of entity is the business? Who are the principal partners? What is the tax structure?
Ask for the supporting documents: You requested the tax return, so you can look at that and see how that aligns with the actual books they gave access.
What outside software: The next question may not be relevant for George Smith our potential client, but it might be appropriate for a future client. What type of software are they using to track trusts? Ask which software they are using for the accounting platform and what software they are using to track trust accounting. Also, ask what type of software they're using for Payroll.
How many matters? Next, you want to observe how the clients in matters are listed. Are they listed clients and matter as a sub-level? Or do they stay at the highest level with just clients? Clients/Matters is where you want to review their accounts receivable deeply. Check out that undeposited funds account too. Do they have much open AR?
Deep review to be sure nothing is missed: The next part of the review would be to look at the client's expenses. Are they tracking their books on an accrual basis, or are they doing it more cash-based? It's essential to see how they are tracking their records overall. Do they have bills? What do your billable expenses account look like? Do they have an advanced client cost account? Has that account been reconciled? How are they handling their soft costs in their hard costs?
How ugly is the COA: Here will get into the chart of accounts. How many accounts do they currently have? Are they nearing the 250? Do they have a law specific chart of accounts?
When was the last reconciliation: We check out their bank accounts, credit card accounts, and loans next. Have any of these been reconciled? Confirm the number of accounts that you would need to track and review every month.
Payroll: Next, we would examine all things Payroll related. How do the accounts align? What are the balances in the payroll accounts that are in the balance sheet section? If they have an outside service, how do their tax returns stand up to QuickBooks' entries?
Assets: We want to review the balance sheet and the fixed assets. Do they have any? And if they do have, they been appropriately entered and depreciated properly? Some of this will show up when you do the review of books to tax.
If you follow all of those sections above, you will be in good shape to have done a complete review for your client. We have created the document to show an overview, a question section, any discovery notes, and then our recommendations. It lays out all of the data that you extract from the file review in an orderly format for your client.
Give the Client a Timeline
The last step in this process is to give the client a timeline for when the work will be completed and perhaps even layout exactly how the work will be done. We have a couple of timeline templates that we've created, and a Lucid Chart document that helps show in a beautiful graphic all the steps that the client will see if they hire you. It just presents a professional form back to the client.
Make it Impressive
You want to take time to make these documents look impressive. The document look is your one chance to ensure that your prospective client is blown away by your work. Presentation is where you want to show that you are worth what you're going to charge, and then they will also realize that you won't be the cheapest around, but you'll provide the best service. I love my CRM, 17hats for this. Not only do you create that initial contact point with a questionnaire, but also follow the lead through the journey to engagement letter, that they can e-sign.
Once your presentation is ready, we contact the client and review the whole project in a Zoom meeting.
Next week will get into how to price the job. I'll dive into a few of the methods around what you can do when pricing out this kind of work. The monthly work is usually pretty easy to price; it's the messy files and clean-up work that can take much time and effort. But we're not going to put together a package about ours. We're going to give the client a fixed price.
If you are an attorney that has messy records and needs assistance with cleaning them up, we are EXPERTS!