Introduction - a revolutionary "one system" approach
In talking to different legal firms about their current internal systems and processes, it has become obvious to us that GhostPractice is quite revolutionary in its approach to practice management. While we can immediately identify the benefits of our "one system" approach, we must acknowledge the following:
Centralized Bookkeeping - the "Illusion of Control"
Work in progress
The majority of a firm's current value is tied up in what is happening in matters that are currently being worked on. The accounting system only shows what is invoiced and processed against a clients account, so the vast majority of information pertaining to matters is absent from the accounting system.
In even the most efficient of practices, which operate under the conditions described above, the accounting system is always "behind". This "lag" is not good for client service and efficiency.
A continuous reconciliation exercise
In Conveyancing, there will be a continuous reconciliation exercise between the secretaries processing Conveyancing work and the bookkeepers who post the financial entries. It is possible to off-set this risk by implementing manual procedures, but this will mean a compromise of efficiency and it is no guarantee against mistakes. It may also result in an excessive staff compliment to deal with the administration.
In Collections departments, the lag between information processed on the debtor account by the fee earners versus financial information processed by accounts (like a receipt) can cause problems - like suing a debtor that paid yesterday.
How can GhostPractice change this?
Given the above scenario (which by necessity is a generalization based on our experience), we would like to describe how GhostPractice can make things more efficient and effective:
GhostPractice is a "Practice Management System" which includes the full spectrum of Legal Accounting. The difference is a highly differentiated decentralized management system which connects the fee earners (professionals and secretaries) with the bookkeepers on one database in real time.
The Fee Earner "dashboard" gives all information in a matter centric view. When looking at a matter you see everything on one screen (the client it is linked to; fee earner; recent matter history (including financials); contact details as well as numerous tools to help generate documents and emails or record fees).
The Bookkeeper screen presents different options appropriate to bookkeepers and will satisfy all the requirements of a Legal Accounting System.
GhostPractice uses "Roles" which are defined by the practice. These "Roles" define the permissions that must be allocated to the users in order for them to complete daily tasks efficiently, while still having sensible and appropriate controls in place. For example, here are some possible permissions you could implement:
a. Fee earners do not have access to the general ledger.
b. Only the partners have access to the practice management (analytical) reports.
c. Only designated fee earners can finalize fees and disbursements, whereas all fee earners can record fees and disbursements.
Real time recording
The fundamental driving concept inherent in the design of GhostPractice is to allow every person in the practice to capture what they do on a daily basis and have that information utilized without any duplication for whatever purpose necessary. As the following examples illustrate.
A secretary or a professional can raise a fee, produce a document/email, record a file note or manage documents. They do this with a set of intuitive software tools suited to the way they practice.
A Conveyancing secretary can (at the click of a button) transfer information from GhostConvey directly into the GhostPractice system (whether opening a bond; transfer; consent or development, or raising fees on registration). When accounts process receipts on Conveyancing matters, the secretary receives a system generated email immediately notifying her of the details.
A debt collection clerk can record a promise to pay; send automatic SMS reminders; produce legal documents (the system generates these, automatically merging data from the database) and debit fees. Any receipts processed by accounts display immediately without any updates having to run.
Any user can record a disbursement (if permissions allow). This is done very safely via a screen which merely asks the user to capture the details of the invoice from the business creditor (sheriff; advocate), while there is an even simpler interface to capture Revenue Stamps. The system takes care of all the postings to the ledgers automatically and always attaches an audit trail of the transactions to the matter.
A Holistic system
Instead of a centralized accounts system, the practice now has a more holistic system which services all the users in the practice according to their role. This "matter centric" system ensures that whenever you are looking at a matter you see everything there is which is connected to that matter.
Extensive management (analytical) reports give partners greater management control and keep them in touch with clients by using the following:
Other fee earner features
Additional fee earner features are available to make your practice more efficient and effective:
Legal Diary - Allows users to manage diary dates and deadlines for matters.
Legal Diary Manager - Allows those managers with subordinates to assign matters electronically and to monitor progress. There is also a "Bulk Assign" and "Recall" function which will assist managers when staff go on leave or are off sick.
Tasks - these can be assigned to specific users and allows users to have many different diary dates per matter.
Emails - either drafting emails using Microsoft Outlook, where the system will attach a copy of the mail to the matter or attaching incoming mails to the matter for reference.
Collaboration - the system will manage multiple fee earners debiting fees on one matter by managing the different fee rates (each fee earner has four hourly/page and folio rates and each matter can have a high/normal/low/subsidized setting). All notes and fees recorded against the matter are recorded with the fee earner reference. You also have the option of debiting at the tariff or tariff + a surcharge.
On Demand Invoicing - fee earners can invoice at any time of the month and do not need the bookkeeping department to be involved. They are also able to customize the layout of the invoice in many different ways and can produce Pro-Forma Fee Notes as well as Tax Invoices.
System Generated Invoices - this can also be set to Monthly or Daily. Additional settings can ensure that an Invoice will ONLY be produced if there is available Trust Money on the matter.
Statements - each client can receive their statements on a specified date and these can be automatically emailed where possible.
Contact Management - GhostPractice includes a central contact management database which allows contacts to be attached to the matter.
Transaction History - not only can every user see everything on a matter via this tool, they can also filter the selection and store common selections under their own title, for ease of use.
Powerful Search - Just enter some key words (much like you would on Google) and the system not only fetches the results but organizes them into categories and then asks you what you want to do with the results - do you want to look at the matter details; debit a fee or requisition a payment?
Find - where appropriate the search is customized on certain fields to find information in a fraction of a second (if you need to fill in a Client number and don't know it - just enter part of the client name and the system will find it in a flash).
Despite the fact that accounting is an established science where there is not as much room for innovation, we have found ways to make this aspect of the system easy to use whilst refusing to compromise on the necessary controls. GhostPractice has taken all regulations into account in terms of the Law Society, Fidelity Fund and SARS.
Here are some features which will make things easier from a bookkeeping perspective.
Automations - fees and disbursements as well as invoices and credit notes can all be done by the fee earners. The system has been painstakingly designed to allow these users to process these items without having to know a debit from a credit. The system automates the postings and controls these postings through control accounts between the different ledgers. The result is an end to the bookkeeper posting transactions which have already been recorded by the fee earner.
Batch Postings - you can work on multiple batches simultaneously and can save any incomplete batches for finalization/posting at a later stage.
Faster posting -where possible we only require the user to enter the one side of a transaction. For example if the credit side of a transaction can be predicted, the user only needs to fill in the debit side and vice versa. This just speeds up the posting process.
Bank Recons - GhostPractice allows you to import the bank statement and to do an auto recon of exact matches - only asking the user to reconcile non matched items. This saves valuable time.
Correspondents - the system allows for a variable percentage fee arrangement with the correspondent. GhostPractice then allows you to capture the correspondents invoice and takes care of all the ledger entries automatically.
Trust Transfers - can be done as often as you like and do not have to be done per client. A report will print showing the transfer broken down per matter and you also have the option to print any transfer listing by date or by fee earner.
Trust Investments - You just choose what you want to do with the Trust Investment (are you processing bank charges, interest or just moving the money to or from general trust) and GhostPractice automates the process (including opening a trust investment account for the matter if it is not already linked to such an account) only asking the user for a bare minimum of data.
Business Creditors - GhostPractice has a separate Business Creditors Ledger allowing you to keep better control of business creditors - improving cash flow whilst ensuring they are paid timeously.
Real time connection to the fee earners. At all times, matters can be checked; fees finalized or reports run which accurately reflect the total position of the business.
All standard transactions - Fees, Disbursements, Journals, Transfers - can be posted in the traditional way in addition to the various automations that exist between the ledgers in the practice.
Day ends and Month ends - are managed by the system with zero downtime. You can even have different month end dates for the Client/Matter Month End and the General Ledger Month End, while the system will keep all users operating in the correct period.
The last word in sophistication
All in all, GhostPractice is the last word in sophistication. This does not mean, however, that the system is designed only for the larger practice. It is a fact that smaller practices will benefit from the efficiency that GhostPractice brings to the table, to an even greater degree than larger practices. In smaller practices, employing another person to absorb increased administration is far more expensive and less effective than buying GhostPractice for the whole firm. With GhostPractice, that extra person is not necessary. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the writer at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or click on the advert below.