Trust accounts in the legal profession may not be the most pressing matters of the day, but that doesn’t mean any lawyer can afford to push them aside. It is worth thinking through your current system to eliminate the chance of error, or possibly just wasted time. Here are five tips to keep in mind to successfully manage your trust accounts.
1. Keep a Paper Trail
As a lawyer, you know that everything needs proof. While you may have the bigger deposits and withdrawals covered, you need to keep track of absolutely everything that’s happening to the account. Someone may need to know the details to get a clear understanding of the situation. It is important to maintain descriptive details of each transaction should questions arise.
2. Reconsider Fee Agreements
Fee agreements are set up to give clients a real idea of how they are being charged, yet most clients still come to their lawyers wondering what each charge means. Skip the hassle by ensuring that both you and the client have a clear idea of how the balance, costs and interest works. This often means writing different kinds of contracts to encourage trust and transparency. At the end of the day, you want to develop lasting relationships that are built on trust.
3. Go the Long Route
Trust accounts can make it easy to take shortcuts, but don’t be tempted to take them. Whatever it is you are doing, from charging fees to paying for a client’s expenses, always ensure that you have a way to explain your actions should someone review the history of spending. Be patient and keep your ducks in a row. This is especially true when you are waiting for checks to clear.
4. Be Vigilant and Prepared
Cashier checks and wire transfers can be common for trust accounts, but can be prone to hacking. You’ll want to know the techniques an embezzler will use, and be weary right before a bank holiday when scams tend to skyrocket. There are also emergencies that take lawyers by surprise when it comes to trust accounts. Do you have a plan for what you will do if your client is suddenly disabled and unable to make the important decisions? Having these contingency plans will help your firm prepare for the worst and plan for the best!
5. Use Billing Software
Implementing billing software that makes it easy to separate funds into earned and unearned accounts will make managing trust accounts easier. With the click of a button, applicable funds can be deposited directly into your trust account with all the necessary payment details. Some software will provide you a dashboard of funds being deposited into trust and operating accounts to help you better manage revenue. When using this software, make sure the vendor is up-to-date with PCI compliance to ensure safe card data storage.
There have been many articles in which disciplinary action is taken against a firm after an audit was completed and clerical errors were found. Properly managing your trust accounts daily may seem like a hassle, but losing the ability to practice over a routine clerical error is worse. Make certain you are reconciling your trust bank account daily and taking corrective action when discrepancies arise. Ryan Beck