Law firms all over the world have accelerated plans to digitize operations as stay-at-home orders and fears of spreading the novel coronavirus have kept workers away from the office.
For accounts receivable departments, this has meant finding ways to keep cash flowing smoothly when normal operations are disrupted for them and their clients. Some firms have quickly ramped to take credit cards and electronic payments, others have upgraded their payment processor, and some have redoubled their efforts to encourage online payments over checks.
Butzel Long, headquartered in Detroit, implemented ClientPay for payment processing in 2019. We asked Audit Manager Kimberly Zortman about her team’s work to support clients and make payments happen as they adjust to current conditions.
How have you changed the way you communicate with clients – especially about invoices and payments?
We started to shift this last year when we went to ClientPay. We added a payment page and built awareness of credit card payment options. We emailed clients, added fluorescent Pay Online stickers to our invoices, and encouraged the lawyers to reinforce the communication. We knew it was working when we saw all the invoices that were paid on the weekends. It’s helpful to have the lawyers’ support because they have the clients’ email addresses – we usually don’t get those right away.
The week before we went remote, we noticed clients coming to us for credit card and ACH payment instructions. They were preparing for the possibility of shelter-in-place. We gave our timekeepers an email they could send to their clients with online payment instructions so they could make this easier for their clients. And to be sure we’re communicating at the point of need, we’re encouraging online payment by sending payment instructions with invoices going forward, whether they’re printed or emailed. We have definitely seen an increase in electronic payments in the past month.
How does your firm think about credit card payments vs. checks? Has that changed or intensified as a result of COVID-19?
We like credit card and electronic payments generally because clients can see invoices and allocations right away, and the partners can see what has been paid or is still outstanding. And while there is a fee for credit card processing, we know what it is and can budget accordingly. I prefer that to waiting for the float on checks.
With the pandemic, the gradual transition we were making to electronic payments has accelerated. We’ve reached out to as many clients as possible to suggest electronic payments, for their benefit and ours.
What advice do you have for your law firm accounting peers when it comes to helping the firm thrive now and even after the risk passes?
For firm leaders, make sure you’re listening to staff, attorneys and the community and incorporating their perspectives into your decisions. We have that here at Butzel Long, and it has made us more nimble and able to respond to massive changes in the market. For firm employees, make sure you’re talking to those leaders. I take ideas and concerns to our CFO, and I know she’ll take them seriously.
Right now, our leaders are actively making sure that each employee is safe and working to be sure our firm takes care of clients and comes out of this strong. It’s remarkable how quickly we shifted to work-from-home – we could do it because our board is listening to each other, the community, and the staff.
How is your team staying connected?
We use instant messaging tools and have more meetings to get on the same page. Managers make sure to call staff proactively, checking on them and seeing if they need support or help with a task. Honestly, sometimes I think we’re communicating better than ever before.
For our team nothing is off limits, and everyone’s expected to help as much as they can. That means if it’s my day to be in the office, I’m taking invoices off the printer and scanning or filing them, even though that’s not my regular job. And if I miss a step, the billing coordinators are able to correct me so I do it better next time. For something like an immigration visa, where we write three to five separate checks, it makes a huge difference to the team if I miss a step. Now I’m tuned in to the process and careful to make my team’s job easier, not harder, when I help!