LawPracticeZA is a web-based Matter Management and Billing application with integrated business and trust accounting, designed for South African Law firms.
LawPracticeZA is hosted on our powerful Linux servers, housed in a secure data centre where regular on and off site backups are performed. Users access LawPracticeZA via a browser, which means data is accessible using various devices (computers, laptops, Widows, Apple, iPads, smartphones) at any time, from anywhere (with an internet connection). The responsive software design makes LawPracticeZA practical to use even on a smartphone (for example when at court or waiting for a flight at an airport).
Being a hosted solution also means that software updates are frequent, and help is always on hand. At the bottom of every screen is SUBMIT A SUPPORT REQUEST, which should be used for both queries and reporting bugs: everyone at LawPracticeZA is immediately notified and the issue is logged in our issues management system.
Matter Management and Billing¶
LawPracticeZA is based on the concept of Clients, each with one or more Matters. Think of a Matter as an instruction from a client.
Fee Earners (lawyers and candidate attorneys) capture fees and disbursements against Matters as unbilled (WIP) transactions. A non-fee earner (paralegal or secretary), given access to a matter, can also capture fees on behalf of a fee earner. Periodically, unbilled fees can be invoiced: typically on conclusion of a Matter, or at a milestone event for long-running matters. A Fee earner may produce a proforma invoice prior to invoicing, either to check the details or to provide to the client before invoicing (invoicing updates the accounts and consequently has VAT and tax consequences, whereas a proforma invoice does not).
Invoices can be generated by a fee earner individually or in bulk (selectively), and/or by the accounts department.
Invoices (and Statements to Clients) can be emailed directly from within LawPracticeZA, and Clients can access invoices from a hyperlink in the statement that they receive via email. There is also an option to include invoices with the emailed statement.
Legal accounting basics with LawPracticeZA¶
An increasing number of law firms, in addition to managing matter and billing clients, are using LawPracticeZA to manage their business and trust accounts. This makes sense as LawPracticeZA has been specifically designed for law firms and is fully integrated, reducing duplication and transcription, saving time and reducing errors.
In addition, many of the rules and controls that are required of a legal accounting system (as opposed to a standard commercial accounting package) have been encapsulated in LawPracticeZA. These rules and controls are based on the knowledge and expertise gained from developing and implementing systems in hundreds of law firms of all sizes throughout South Africa, over many years.
We have found that some staff tasked with the bookkeeping function in law firms do not have bookkeeping and/or legal bookkeeping expertise. This section gives an overview of the fundamentals, to point such a person in the right direction, so they know where to look for the more detailed support documentation provided. We would nevertheless recommend that, in these circumstances, a law firm considers employing, whether on a part-time or full-time basis, a legal bookkeeper who also has a working knowledge of LawPracticeZA. There are a number of such bookkeepers offering their services in South Africa, and the technology makes their location irrelevant. In our experience, these bookkeepers charge a very reasonable rate and require only a few hours a month for a typical small firm, working remotely.
This section provides a ‘mile-high’ view. The more detailed documentation can be accessed from the remainder of this manual and the help found via the Dashboard of every LawPracticeZA system.
LawPracticeZA consists of Clients and their linked Matters (a Matter can be thought of as an instruction from a client), with all posting to the Matter, which has separate balances for business, trust and client investments.
Fees and disbursements are recorded as unbilled (WIP) and periodically invoiced to the client, at which time they become accounting transactions, and update the appropriate accounts automatically.
Disbursements consist of both a ‘purchase’ (e.g. invoice from an Advocate or Sheriff) and a ‘sale’ (disbursement charged to the client). When posting the invoice from the Supplier (e.g. Advocate), the disbursement charge to the client can be simultaneously posted, OR when capturing the disbursement for the client, the invoice from the Supplier (e.g. Advocate) can be simultaneously posted. In both instances the invoice (scanned copy) can be uploaded, to be attached to the email when sending the clients invoice.
When an invoice is generated, the Matters business balance is debited, the debtors control in the General Ledger debited, and Fees and / or Disbursement Income (and VAT if registered for VAT) in the General Ledger credited.
A credit note, which can also be automatically generated by LawPracticeZA by reversing an invoice, posts transactions in reverse to invoices transactions. There is also an option to ‘hide’ reversals on a clients statement.
A client may pay a deposit for work to be done, in which case the receipt would be to the trust bank, and consequently credits the Matters trust balance (and debit the Trust bank account).
If a client pays for work already done, the payment received from the client should be received into the Business Bank account, and would update the Matter business balance. If the client pays into trust, this will nevertheless result in a trust transfer.
Periodically a trust transfer is run, where LawPracticeZA identifies matters where there is a trust credit (deposit received) and a business debit (invoiced after receiving the trust deposit). Available trust is then ‘transferred’, where the total of all transferable amounts are paid from the trust bank to the firm’s business bank.
LawPracticeZA includes Reconzilla, which can import bank statements downloaded from the internet. The bookkeeper can then post directly from the imported bank statement, where the entry is also automatically reconciled.
The ability to post investments made on behalf of clients (LPA Section 86(4)) is provided, including interest / charges and withdrawals. LawPracticeZA provides for all the other transactions required in a legal firm.
There are a number of reports (produced as a spreadsheet, e.g. Excel, by default) that provide the information required by a law firm, inter alia: -
- Trust investment / commitments: a list of all clients Matters that have a trust or investment balance, with separate tabs for trust bank account/s and individual Section 86(4) investments).
- Statement of Account(s): all General Ledger accounts, with transactions, for the selected period. Use ‘Text to Table’ in Excel to analyse transactions. This is ideal for the trust audit, where the auditor can be given access to the system and extract the data required directly.
- Financial reports: includes tabs for Trial Balance, Income and Expense Account and Balance Sheet.
- Client and Supplier Age Analysis, and numerous other reports.
Trust accounting is the major differentiator between a system for law firms and most other businesses. It is critical to manage and account for trust funds correctly, as the ability of a law firm to continue operating can depend on this. Importantly lawyers, rather than bookkeepers, are ultimately responsible, so blindly accepting that the bookkeeper is ‘doing it correctly’ is no defense if things go wrong.
LawPracticeZA has a number of unique features, made possible by the powerful technology deployed. There is no traditional month and year end: all data is always retained and LawPracticeZA recalculates balances as required. This is achieved by using a ‘freeze’ date to mark month and year-ends (i.e. setting the freeze date is the equivalent to running a month or year end and must be done to enable the generation of meaningful financial reports).
Banks have ‘Receipt methods’, to accommodate the various payment types: most commonly EFT, but cheques / cash as well as Credit Cards and even Bitcoin can be accommodated by the design.
All reports have an export to Excel function and importantly, unlike exporting from a report writer, has been optimized for a spreadsheet. Consequently, reports can be quickly and simply converted to Pivot Tables for analysis (e.g. Unbilled Fees and Disbursements and Invoiced Fees and Disbursements). Several reports have Pivot Tables included. The Excel Text to Table can be applied to the General Ledger Account(s) report, which makes it ideal for analysis by the Auditor.
The entire LawPracticeZA can be accessed from anywhere at any time by users with the correct authority and security clearance. Even the firm auditors, for example, can be given access, where they can operate from their own offices. There is no additional cost for auditor access: cost only applies to Fee Earners in the firm.
User Guides and Help with LawPracticeZA¶
There are a number of user categories: Fee Earner, Bookkeepers, Administrators and other users (clerks, secretaries).
The trend for web-based applications is ‘self-taught’ or ‘self-learning’. Although legal accounting, and especially trust accounting, can be complex, LawPracticeZA has, together with an intuitive interface, incorporated many controls and automation to make this process as simple and error-free as possible.
This manual is provided to assist with achieving self-sufficiency as quickly and painlessly as possible. Accurate and up-to-date trust accounts are critical, but for a successful practice, Matter Management and Billing with integrated business and trust accounting is extremely important. Good legal bookkeepers are in short supply, and LawPracticeZA is an application that encapsulates much of the expertise required.
LawPracticeZA is your 24/7 expert assistant, helping you to run your law firm efficiently and effectively.
This is a living document that is updated as new features and functionality is added to LawPracticeZA. Visit often.
How to use this manual¶
The various sections in the manual are designed to satisfy specific requirements. For example, when a Fee earner is new to LawPracticeZA, the Fee Earner Getting Started section will provide quick and simple help for getting up and running. As more experience is gained and assistance is needed for a specific function, the more in-depth Fee Earner User Guide will be useful.
- Fee Earner: Getting Started: this provides the typical administrative actions that a fee earner would perform using LawPracticeZA in a normal working day, plus other actions that affect the fee earner (but may be the domain of the bookkeeper). Full details of all fee earner functions are provided in the Fee Earner Guide (see below).
- Fee Earner User Guide provides details of all Fee Earner functions.
- Bookkeeper User Guide provides details of all Bookkeeper functions.
- Administrator Guide provides details of all Admin functions.
- Concepts provides explanations for issues relating and pertinent to law firms. This is followed by frequently asked questions - with answers (FAQ’s).
- API Guide and Schema provide technical information for developers interesting in integrating LawPracticeZA with their applications, or larger firms, with in-house IT expertise, integrating customised systems with LawPracticeZA.
Most sections provide links to load the module under review: you must be logged in to LawPracticeZA for the module to load, and you will need rights to the module. For example, if a ‘Fee Earner’ and not also a ‘Bookkeeper’, you will not be able to load a bookkeeping function.
The User Guide sections of the manual mirrors the menu. Different users may have different privileges, so not all options may be available when you login.
The best way of learning is doing: start with Fee Earner: Getting Started. Once more familiar with LawPracticeZA, help on all Fee Earners functions is provided for in the Fee Earner User Guide. The additional aids (details below) will also help you get up and running quickly.
Additional aids for learning and using LawPracticeZA¶
To provide a compact and efficient means to firstly gain a ‘mile-high’ view of LawPracticeZA, but also to drill-down into the specific function required, we have designed a number of ‘Guidance Cards’ (PDF documents), which can be printed or viewed on-line.
When viewed on-line, help for a specific topic or function can be accessed by clicking on the relevant info icon.
To load a function (e.g. Matter Receipt or Trust Transfer), click the relevant section in the Card.
You must be logged into LawPracticeZA when clicking most of the links in the PDF (and be in the same browser which your system uses when opening web links from PDFs).
There are several documents; each provides for a different category of user.
- Single page Fee Earners Guidance Card summarizes all fee earner functionality, with a flowchart of the most common activities.
- Two-page Bookkeeper printable pdf Guidance Card with expanded comments and a single-page pdf for viewing on your computer or tablet.
- Administrators: Guidance Card can be both printed and viewed online.
- A chart of Debits and Credits is provided to summarise bookkeeping accounting entries in a law firm.
- A copy of this manual is also available in pdf format, which can be read off-line and is searchable and can be printed.
Log in and out and passwords¶
To log in, enter the username and password provided by LawPracticeZA, in the fields provided on the LawPracticeZA website, and SIGN IN.
To log out, click your login name (immediately above the Menu Filter).
The Account Settings option allows you to change your display name (e.g. on Invoices) and password.
To change your password, you will have to enter your current password, then your new password. You can let the system automatically generate you a new password. You will need to re-enter your password to confirm that it is correct.