Hamilton Stephens Steele + Martin Uses Automation to Bring Aha Moments and Efficiencies to Their Law Firm

 
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For Cindy Bouve, being a finance manager is a natural fit.

“I’m a numbers person, and I like that balance of ticking and tying things,” she said.

Bouve and her assistant comprise the accounting department for Hamilton Stephens Steele + Martin, which has 22 attorneys who provide legal services to individuals, small to mid-sized businesses, and municipalities. The firm implemented ClientPay in March of 2020.

“The reason I pushed for ClientPay is I like to have collaborative software programs,” Bouve explained. “It was a selling point for me that ClientPay partners with Juris.”

She said she convinced her firm to adopt ClientPay after explaining the pricing and showing how it would ultimately save the firm money. Now, Bouve looks forward to the fourth-quarter integration of ClientPay and Juris.

“The integration that’s coming out is going to be major,” Bouve said. “I see the integration as one more step in our automation.”

Automating and streamlining processes is work that Bouve enjoys.

“I love finding efficiencies,” she said. “I don’t like hearing, ‘It’s because we’ve always done it that way.’ Let’s make sure it’s appropriate for how we’re running the firm today.”

With a background working in accounting firms, Bouve understands the legal industry has a reputation for being slower to embrace technology than the finance industry.

“Law firms aren’t known to change,” Bouve added. "Moving into the law industry, I’ve had to break new territory. The fact that ClientPay has been able to help us pricing-wise allowed me to get them in the door to show what they can do for us. Once we had one aha moment, the firm is more receptive to the next aha moment."

Strengthening security measures and protecting clients

One aha moment involved strengthening the firm’s efforts around security and PCI compliance. Shorthand for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, PCI refers to stringent standards regarding how businesses accept credit cards and store card data.

“We have a couple of attorneys whose clients like them to hold onto their credit card data,” Bouve explained. “It’s a battle I’ve pushed against since day one because we shouldn’t be storing any credit card data. Having ClientPay store the credit card data and being able to reassure clients we can still pull payment whenever they’re ready has been a big plus.”

It’s a pain point Bouve was relieved to address.

“From a security standpoint, I feel much better knowing we’re not storing credit card data,” she said. “We have a responsibility to protect our clients and their data even when they don’t know they need protecting!”

Bouve also likes how providing a link to the ClientPay payment portal puts the payment responsibility on clients.

“I love that automation feature of including the payment link on their invoices, and from a privacy standpoint, clients are entering in their own information,” Bouve said.

Getting paid in a timelier manner

Another aha moment came in seeing how ClientPay enabled the firm to get paid faster.

Moving to ClientPay meant leaving a totally manual process, which Wolfe describes in detail.

“Not only has it helped us with our accounts receivable (A/R) collections, but we also do a lot of trust work,” she explained. “Having two payment options, one for A/R and one for trust, is huge. We need to have funds become available right away since a lot of our attorneys won’t start work until funds have cleared. The attorneys feel much better seeing people put some skin in the game, so to speak, and this allows us to get to work for our clients much sooner.”


"We were astounded at how quickly our credit card processing volume increased”.


“With the ability for our clients to receive their invoices and then be able to turn around and pay them, often on the same day, we were astounded at how quickly our credit card processing volume increased,” Bouve said. “One month we were over $100,000, and we’d never experienced that collection rate with that same client base previously.”

She added, “It has enabled us to keep our collection volume up and avoid interruptions in our cash flow, as well as to remain focused on servicing our clients. It also built a fair amount of confidence in the partners because they see payment processing happening much more quickly, and we’re not waiting until end of the month. It’s more front-end versus back-end collections.”

Going paperless ad making a firm-wide impact

She said ClientPay has improved efficiencies firm-wide, such as by making it easy for legal assistants to attach a payment link when sending invoices.

“Being able to do all of that remotely and seamlessly and then get paid almost simultaneously is perfect,” Bouve said. “There’s the convenience factor of it. It’s a huge relief for clients too when they can pay remotely and float their own cash flow.”

Bouve also uses Juris technology to drive efficiencies, including exporting invoices in batches to the legal assistants who send out their attorneys’ invoices.

“Going paperless was really great,” Bouve said. “We previously printed paper invoices and gave them to the legal assistants, who would then scan and email them to clients. With the batch exporting feature in Juris, our billing efficiency has increased – being able to grab PDF invoices out of an exported folder and email them right away has been a tremendous efficiency gain for the firm, not just for the accounting department.”

Bouve learned about the export feature while attending a Juris conference.

“My feeling on conferences is that if you come back with one idea, you will have paid for the conference,” she said. “Implementing the export feature helped build my credibility and standing in the firm. When you have one success and it helps the firm move forward, firm leaders allow you to help them with more.”

She said being forward-thinking is something all A/R departments can do to bring their department and firm to the next level.

“I have one client: the firm,” Bouve explained. “Finding ways to increase efficiencies in my department and firm-wide – for the people who rely on my department – and being forward thinking are what I enjoy the most.”


"It's a tremendous advantage when money comes in so quickly and it's clear where it's going to."


She said it’s important for accounting and A/R professionals to understand how they impact the entire firm.

“It’s key for me to have efficiencies across the board, not just in one department,” Bouve said. “To have an efficiency like the Juris export feature that makes it easier on my assistant, plus the legal assistants sending out invoices, is a win.”

She said automation has helped drive efficiencies while strengthening client relationships.

“It’s a tremendous advantage when money comes in so quickly and it’s clear where it’s going to; it allows everyone to be up to date and know where they stand with their clients,” Bouve said. “Attorneys are able to remain focused on the business of serving their clients, and not spend so much time in the weeds chasing their clients for money.”

Complexities of securing revenue in law firms

Bouve said when attorneys step back from the A/R and collections processes, it makes the complex work of securing revenue for a law firm go more smoothly.

“Sometimes when attorneys have a client who’s upset, their first inclination is to discount their bill rather than finding out what the underlying concern is,” Bouve explained. “The ability to look at the process objectively is a great advantage to an A/R department and the firm as a whole to maintain the profitability on any matter being worked on.”

She encourages attorneys to have that degree of separation.

“Let me be the bad guy and money collector, you go love on your client,” Bouve tells her firm’s attorneys. “I want attorneys to have plausible deniability of the invoice process, allowing them to pause, step back and not overcommit to something that may affect their profit margin.”

Bouve added that law firms’ different practice areas also make securing revenue different than in other businesses.

“The nature of different practice areas requires you to have more fluid A/R policies in place,” Bouve explained.

Her firm’s mix of family law, insurance and bankruptcy matters requires tailoring the collections and A/R practices for each practice area. It’s another way Juris has been helpful.

“Within Juris, we have great billing features based on the type of service and billing requirements needed, such as hourly billing, flat fees, contingency and a bunch of other personalized preferences,” she said. “It allows us to customize our billing to match our signed engagement with the client and to bill appropriately at the proper intervals.”

The trust accounting her firm does also makes securing revenue complex.

“We have a commercial real estate section, and we could have $1 to $6 million sitting in the trust at any given time,” Bouve said. “The added level of complexity to be that responsible fiduciary agent and to track the transactions instantaneously is another reason I enjoy working in Juris. Handling our clients’ funds that they have entrusted to us is an awesome responsibility and one that I take seriously on behalf of the firm. I’m very thankful to have such a strong program in Juris to manage this segment of the accounting.”

Despite the challenges, Bouve finds her role rewarding.

“I love knowing what I’m doing has a positive impact on other peoples’ lives,” Bouve said. “If I can improve your working life by the procedures I implement, it’s rewarding.”

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