Unless you specialize in tax law, you’re probably not an accounting expert, but understanding accounting basics can help lawyers ensure their legal practice complies with ethics rules and accounting regulations.
Unlike other business owners, lawyers need to be familiar with two types of accounting: business and legal. While there is overlap between the two, there are differences, especially when handling client funds.
Differences between business and legal accounting
Business accounting is what law firms have in common with other businesses and includes expenses of running the law practice such as overhead, payroll, office rent, assets, liabilities, and equity.
Legal accounting is specific to law firms. It encompasses matter cost and income accounting — client costs, reimbursements, and fee income — as well as fee advances and retainer accounting.
Properly tracking the posting and reimbursement of matter costs is essential to ensure the firm’s accounting records are compliant. Law firms typically have two types of matter costs:
In accounting terms, any retainers received are liabilities — funds that haven’t yet been earned and still belong to someone else (the client).
Trust accounts are bank accounts set up specifically to hold client retainers.
General tips for accurate legal accounting
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Well-prepared and organized financial data not only helps with compliance but also offers critical insights into the operations of a law firm. Accountants can help law firms lay the foundation and establish best practices allowing firm leaders to focus on growing the firm.
Give our team a call if you need help ensuring you meet all of the regulatory requirements for your firm’s financial situation, including:
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