Questions to ask your new Attorney-Client
Hooray! You received your first lead from a potential attorney-client. His name is George Smith, and he has a small practice with one other partner. You are nervous about calling him back. What questions should you ask? Are there things you need to know that is different from what you would typically ask any general random potential client?
When you call George back, I always recommend letting the client tell his story. Why did he contact you? What are his pain points? My best advice is to LISTEN. Let the client speak. A little role-playing below so you can see my methods to get the client to hire you.
Role Play to Your First Attorney-Client
LA: Hi, George, you contacted me about your accounting needs. How can I help you?
GS: Hi Lynda, I need some help with my bookkeeping. The bookkeeper I had before was not doing a great job. She never responded to my requests for financials. She only sent me the Profit and Loss report without any explanation. Some of the items on the report I don’t understand.
LA: I have a few questions if you don’t mind. What type of entity is your firm? (This is helpful so we can review the setup of the chart of accounts and any distributions or how the client pays himself)
LA: How many partners? (Important to know if we need to use classes to track revenue)
GS: Two, Me, and Brian Jones. But he has little to do with accounting.
LA: Okay, so you will be my point of contact?
GS: Yes. I drew that short straw. 🙂
LA: Where is your practice located? (Knowing the state where he practices will provide me the information needed to research the (ABA) American Bar Association for that state).
LA: Great! I have multiple clients in Texas, and I am very versed in the rules for your state. What is your practice area or areas? (We need to know this to know if they want to track by practice area or revenue stream. The question can follow up with, "how do you process your billing?", ie, hourly, subscription, fixed, contingency).
GS: Family law mostly. We also do some estate planning.
LA: How many trust bank accounts do you have? (Determining complexity)
GS: Just one.
LA: How many trust matters do you have? (Determining how big a job this is and if ouside trust tracking software is necessary)
GS: About 200
LA: How have you been tracking the trust accounting? Are you using an outside program? (Learning what software they are currently using)
GS: I've been using Excel. Is that an outside program? (client chuckles)
LA: It sure is! We can help you with that. I would need to see your records to know where you are and what your needs are. We will do a complete file review. We will examine your documents thoroughly and provide you with a detailed report. We will also schedule some time to review this with you and discuss the next steps. The fee for the file review is $575.00. If you want, we can get that process started for you immediately.
George then hires me for the file review. At Artesani Bookkeeping, we have a distinct process, and it is very detailed. We start with an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). We set them up in Liscio (our secure client communication and file storage program.
We ask the client for accountant access. Accountant access gives us the tools for the file review. Have you seen the new prep for tax feature that is in the accountant’s briefcase in QuickBooks? We will get into file review steps in a future post.
And there is more...
There are a few other variables, so asking the right questions will get you there. You need to know how they process their taxes—cash or accrual basis? Most are cash.
If they are a solo practitioner, you may need to help them with their estimated tax payments. You need to know when the invoice and how often that process is done. Many do that on the first or the first and fifteenth. But some do not have a set schedule.
With 200 open trust accounts, George should be using software like LeanLaw to track them. Excel is not an efficient or accurate way to track trust accounting. Many smaller law firms start with excel because it is easy, and they already have the program. As the firm grows, this can become unruly and inaccurate.
Many attorneys think that they can do the bookkeeping task until they start to get busy or get out of hand. Hiring a professional is essential. It opens space and time for the lawyer to do what they do best, practice law, not doing bookkeeping. A great question to ask your potential client is, when are they doing this bookkeeping work? Many will fess up to the fact that they are doing it at 10 PM and will agree that this is not the best time to be doing their accounting work.
Tracking the trust accounting is essential. Many attorneys just starting will start monitoring their trust, accounting using Excel, and it quickly can become unruly as they grow. Tracking trust accounting is where we step in as a professional accountant. We help the attorney be compliant. Remember, compliance is critical.
Next week we will dive into the file review process...
I hope this mini conversation scenario helps you navigate your first attorney-client conversation. Please let me know your thoughts or share your story. Connect with me on Facebook.
Of course, if you are an attorney who needs help with their books, reach out.
Call us 239-349-2004
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