Schwegman Lundberg & Woessner: Automation enables small teams to make a big impact

 
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As an accounting manager for Schwegman Lundberg & Woessner, Sheena Devine-Remit knows how to get a lot of work accomplished with a small team.

“We have an accounting department of eight employees, which is small for the size of our firm of about 225 employees,” she explained. “Over half are attorneys, and just two of us do accounts receivable and collections.”

Schwegman is a boutique law firm dedicated to the practice of intellectual property law, specializing in strategic patent portfolio planning and management, infringement, validity and clearance investigations, opinions and all phases of intellectual property prosecution practice.

Devine-Remit said she and her colleague have responsibilities outside of collections, including billing, cash receipts, contacting clients on a regular basis, journal entries, payroll and other accounting functions. With so many tasks to divide between two people, automation is crucial to managing daily operations.

“We both really rely on what we’ve automated in our department to help us juggle all those activities,” she said.

Her firm has used ClientPay for three years and immediately realized benefits after switching from their previous provider.

“Before, we were only able to enter credit card payments ourselves; we didn’t have any way for our clients to access a payment portal,” Devine-Remit said. “Clients had to call us with their credit card information since we couldn’t take it over email since it’s against regulations.”

As their former system didn’t have the capability to store credit card information for the firm, Devine-Remit and her colleague went through the time-consuming process of contacting clients each time they wanted to pay by credit card.

“When ClientPay contacted us for a demo, it opened up our eyes to what we could have,” Devine-Remit said. “Their website was very easy to learn how to use. The reporting tools were way above what we were used to. The main reason we switched was to add the payment solution to our website so clients can pay on their own.”

She said the payment portal feature has considerably freed up her time as well as sped up the firm’s collections processes. The self-service portal has been crucial to getting her firm paid in a more timely manner, and she said being able to easily accept credit cards and e-checks gives clients more options.

“We can add the payment portal link to our invoices, signature blocks and payment of accounts,” she said. “Clients think twice about just getting it out of the way: paying right then and there before an invoice is lost on a desk or in an inbox.”

Making Automation a Priority

Devine-Remit advises AR departments looking to bring their department and firm to the next level to implement a payment portal, so their clients can do their payments themselves.

“Clients want to pay by credit card or from their checking account,” she said. “Electronic payments are the way of the future; paper checks are going to be obsolete. The sooner you automate, the better for your firm in the long run. Plus, it makes it easier for your clients.”

Devine-Remit said making automation a priority is critical for AR departments and law firms.

“Anything you can get done through automation frees up time to work on difficult accounts and to collect in a more timely manner,” she explained. “Make sure your law firm is keeping up with technology; it really helps your clients.”

Going digital with ClientPay has helped Devine-Remit reduce aging accounts and increase the number of clients using credit cards. She said another benefit has been setting up a trust account with a credit card option, which helps get last-minute payments.

“Those real-time credit card payments have come in handy,” Devine-Remit said.

She also appreciates that ClientPay is PCI-compliant and handles the storage of clients’ credit card data.

“It was nice to move that responsibility over to ClientPay because it reduced our risk exposure if anything should happen,” Devine-Remit explained. “Knowing ClientPay is in compliance, we don’t have to worry about that.”

She also does not worry about credit card processing fees, which she considers a cost of doing business as clients increasingly move away from using paper checks.

“If I can get paid 30 days faster with a credit card, I’m willing to pay that because you’re realizing your cash that much faster,” Devine-Remit said.

Complexities of Securing Revenue for Law Firms

With many Schwegman clients already paying via credit card and some Schwegman staff already working remotely prior to COVID-19, the firm was prepared when the pandemic hit. One change Devine-Remit made was setting up an e-check option with ClientPay, which has run smoothly.

“There were no hiccups,” she said. “When we knew this was going to be awhile, we emailed our clients and requested them to send payments electronically since our offices were closed. With our payment portal already in place, it was easy for most of our clients to make the switch. Paper checks have declined now that people are used to working from their homes; we’ve seen a lot more electronic payments.”

Even with a smooth transition to operating during the pandemic, securing revenue for a law firm remains a complex role. Devine-Remit noted law firm invoices aren’t at the top of companies’ list of bills to pay.

“It’s getting harder and harder to bill our clients as larger companies set up guidelines on what they will and will not pay for, with stringent budgets that can’t be moved,” she explained.

This makes it challenging for attorneys to bill, which in turn makes collecting in a timely manner more difficult.  

“If you’re not getting the bills right, it takes more time to get them corrected and resubmitted, then to wait for clients to pay on their payment terms,” Devine-Remit said. “If a client rejects an invoice, it becomes a write-off.”

She emphasized how important it is for AR departments to keep up to date with technology as large companies’ e-billing systems become increasingly sophisticated.

“We especially need automation and AI to help us collect and bill in efficient manner,” she said. “We need to increase accuracy while staying compliant with billing guidelines. It’s not like that in other industries, where they’re not allowed to be as picky as companies are with law firms. We’re at the mercy of companies’ paying terms. We have no recourse; if companies say no to 60 days versus 90, they’ll go somewhere else.”

Despite the complexities of the role, Devine-Remit values knowing she makes an impact on the firm, whether it’s bringing a difficult account current or exceeding a monthly collection goal.

“Getting a client squared away – working with them while they do financing, while keeping the risk down for the firm – is rewarding,” she said. “It’s rewarding knowing our work contacting clients has paid off for the firm.”

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