Berger Singerman: Empowering team members to drive efficiencies for the firm

 
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As a controller for Florida business law firm Berger Singerman, Racheal Smith oversees a team of seven who are more than just colleagues to her.

“We work like a small family,” she said.

With 85 attorneys, Berger Singerman serves a diverse client base with a Florida focus and an international scope. Smith’s role involves planning and coordinating her team’s duties and ensuring the accuracy of all the information her team provides for the firm.

“As a controller, I get to interact with all levels of the firm – management, staff and HR,” she explained. “We learn from each other, and I like that.”

Smith’s accounting department implemented ClientPay after realizing they needed a more technologically advanced and streamlined provider to support the firms and its clients.

“We felt ClientPay offered the best user-friendly service with impressive fees compared to competitors,” Smith said.

Her team quickly noticed two major benefits: funds being deposited faster and streamlined reports.

“We found that our funds have deposited 24 to 48 hours sooner than with the old system,” she explained. “The reporting process for daily reconciliations is more efficient. Previously, I logged in a lot to see what charges added up to what was deposited for the day, and I’d wait to send reconciliation reports at the end of the day. Now, I get an email, hit ‘forward’ and transfer information to our team in a fast manner.”

In addition to enabling more effective collaboration across her team, Smith appreciates how ClientPay strengthens her firm’s efforts around security and PCI compliance.

“It’s so much more efficient to have everything maintained and stored in one spot,” she said. “There’s also the ease of all team members having access to all our information; it’s way more streamlined.”

Her firm is currently looking at ways to integrate Aderant Expert technology to further streamline workflows in the billing process.

Exploring Inefficiencies

Smith has a unique perspective on how accounting teams can best support law firms and their clients. After working in accounting at Berger Singerman for seven years, she left to take a role in public accounting, then returned to the firm about two years ago as controller. When she came back, she helped her team members work more efficiently and strengthen their support of the firm.

“I knew what I didn’t like before, so I changed some of that stuff,” Smith said.

She shared how her experience can help A/R departments looking to bring their teams and firms to the next level.

“I would suggest, as we did, that A/R teams really explore the inefficiencies they’re dealing with and find ways to correct them,” Smith said. “Analyze timing of funding and processes for collecting; some of the little changes can have a big impact in making our job a little easier.”

Her team members’ efforts to drive efficiencies gave them more time to reach out to clients and attorneys. Being able to dedicate time to strengthening relationships is among the benefits of streamlining workflows her team has realized.

When looking for solutions and ways to improve workflow, Smith stressed the importance of involving team members.

“I always look for ways to connect with my team,” she said. “When I want to create new procedures and processes, I want their input and feedback. Their hands are in it more than mine.”

Smith emphasized that showing accounting team members how their efforts contribute to the firm makes them more enthusiastic about their work.

“I’m about making my team excited about it,” Smith said. “The more they dive into it, it’s a better work product. Any boss needs to show they care about their staff. I’m transparent; when I see numbers are higher, I give them the credit. It’s about giving credit where credit is due.”

She gives her team credit for a smooth transition to working remotely when COVID-19 hit.

“We had to quickly implement a work-from-home plan,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, accounting has a lot of paper products they use. But we transitioned attorneys to more paperless billing, and we are still able to get bills out and collect.”

Smith said it has helped that companies are increasingly going paperless.

“More clients are paying electronically now than before pandemic,” she said. “It’s gone fairly smoothly. We have an office service that collects our mail; they’d scan materials for those of us who are remote, and it was like nothing changed.”

Complexities of Securing Revenue for Law Firms

Also unchanged are the challenges her department faces in securing revenue for the firm.

“Law firms deal with the struggle of being in a service industry,” Smith explained. “Clients negotiate fees much more so than in other industries. You’re providing a service, and the client may not be able to physically see the benefits. They want a desirable outcome but at a discounted price.”

She said the economic impact of the pandemic makes collections even more challenging.

“Now our A/R is getting messed with and our clients’ is as well,” Smith said. “Whatever industry they’re in, they’re not collecting payments. Companies feel they can push more since it’s a service.”

Despite the challenges Smith encounters as a controller, she enjoys the role and is proud of the impact her team makes on the firm.

“I’m able to assist in making the firm more profitable,” Smith said. “I’ve transformed my team, and they’re excited about how we work together to provide solutions. It’s very rewarding.”

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