By using smart software for your administrative processes, you can save yourself valuable time every day. But how do you know which package is the right one for your law firm? And how can you use it to focus on achieving better results? Dirk Verheul, client advisor from Visser & Visser’s specialist department for the legal profession, in conversation with Ploum Law Firm.
“What’s the point of having an accountant here if we’re looking for a software solution to support our administration?” This is the very question that one of the partners in the Ploum Law Firm asked when Dirk Verheul paid his first visit to the firm’s stylish offices on Blaak in Rotterdam. Ploum had been on the lookout for a cloud solution for its financial administration and time registration for some time. Through a software provider the law firm came into contact with Visser & Visser, an accountant specializing in both software solutions and the legal profession.
Dirk can see the funny side of this rather critical question: “It’s true that it’s not an everyday combination: an accountant that offers software solutions. However, the time when an accountant only concerned himself with your accounts and financial statements is well behind us. Digitization has changed our work and we have actively embraced this change. In fact, we have invested heavily in our IT-related knowledge and have established links with an IT specialist as a sister company. That means we not only supply figures, but also ensure that reports are produced efficiently and offer the best possible insight into results.”
Digital back office
Visser & Visser’s client advisor is referring here to the way firms organize their back office. The specialist department for the legal profession was established around 3 years ago. “We help law firms work smartly and efficiently – whether we are talking about a large organization employing a hundred or so lawyers or a small start-up. For any firm with people on its payroll we can offer a suitable solution. We think in advance about how you want to configure your system and how you want to report. How do you want to record your turnover, for example: for each lawyer or for each practice group? It’s also important to ensure the system is flexible. If there’s other key information that you need, you must be able to extract it. Thinking about these things carefully at the outset means you can enjoy the benefits later in the process.”
A bespoke solution
Dirk explains how the specialist department for the legal profession within Visser & Visser sets to work: “The first step involves analyzing the approach a law firm has taken in terms of software and whether this is sufficient to meet today’s requirements. If it’s not, we identify an appropriate solution. Here we act as the link between software providers and the law firm. That means lawyers don’t have to go looking for suitable software providers themselves, which saves them a lot of time. We are familiar with pretty much all providers and can offer added value by helping firms select smart software systems. A bespoke digital administration system saves entrepreneurs a great deal of valuable time. And, naturally, that benefits a firm’s competitive position.”
‘We are enthusiastic’
Ploum Law Firm is also convinced of the benefits. In 2018 Visser & Visser, ‘the accountant with a good understanding of both IT and the legal profession’, was asked to reorganize the firm’s administrative processes. “We are enthusiastic”, explains Boukje van Steen, interim manager of financial administration at Ploum.
“Our work processes have been simplified and optimized. As a result, the quality of the service we provide has definitely increased. Lawyers’ time doesn’t come cheap, which is why we need to use it optimally. Lawyers themselves also want to spend as little time as possible dealing with internal processes. The new organization of our back office saves us countless hours every week, which we can now use in a different way for the benefit of our clients.”
Since the summer of 2018 Ploum has been working with Legalsense, TwinField and a scanning and recognition solution for purchase invoices. “Everything is automated, right across the organization. The entire routing of purchase invoices is more efficient and can be easily tracked. In the past invoices were physically passed around the organization, but now that’s no longer necessary, as they are authorized digitally. Statements of fees are sent out earlier, which also means they are paid more quickly. What’s more, we also have a greater insight into the entry procedures. The system automatically generates reports, which we can use at a number of different levels.”
Previously, Ploum had been using American accounting software. This was not particularly practical, due to the different VAT system applicable in the Netherlands. “The software was made up of individual elements, making it inconvenient, impractical and extremely cumbersome to use. It cost us a great deal of time. Everything had to be entered manually and you also needed to have good knowledge of the program to initiate a process.”
Boukje continues: “The new software makes it much easier for new people to start using our system, as the software is familiar and user friendly. That means you need less time to get your employees up to speed. Previously, everything also depended on the availability of the financial administration department. Now we have more people within the organization who know about the software, which means colleagues are less reliant on the department itself. That makes our work processes considerably faster. It’s now a simple task for a secretary to scan in any purchase invoices, for example, and make these available on the portal. The lawyer approves the invoices digitally at a time that suits him and does not need to be physically present in the office.”
Ewa Krysmann, project manager and IT manager, particularly appreciates Visser & Visser’s approach to implementation. “Since 2015 Ploum has been working in the cloud. We believe in location-independent working. This has many benefits and makes our work more efficient. Our first step into the cloud was NetDocuments. We were keen to take a deliberate step-by-step approach to various processes, as we have various departments and layers within the organization.”
The IT manager is extremely happy with the new administration software: “The cloud solution is so flexible that our people can work anywhere: in the office, at home or on site at the client. They have become digital nomads, so to speak. That’s quite a change from how things used to be.”
Extra knowledge and helping hands in the workplace
Dirk explains that introducing the solution step by step made it possible to switch the software for processing purchase invoices shortly before the system went live. “It became clear that the scanning solution did not meet all the requirements. As everything is online and our firm works with different software providers, I was able to switch this solution for Ploum without difficulty.”
Ewa responds: “It’s a vast improvement compared with our old software, for which we purchased everything through a single provider. If it didn’t do everything you wanted, you just had to accept it. It was also great that when the system went live Visser & Visser was able to make extra knowledge and helping hands available in the workplace. That ensured the transition was smooth and problem free. Generally, a software package comes with remote support. Beyond that you have to figure things out yourself. The implementation phase coincided with the summer holidays, so the temporary support we received was highly desirable, partly due to the limited capacity we had at the time.”
The administrative process has now been organized in such a way that the law firm is achieving maximum efficiency. Boukje explains that a lot of time is being saved in particular due to the fact that transactions no longer need to be performed manually. “From filing returns and paying purchase invoices through to entering and charging for hours. We now have a real-time insight into the turnover of our practices thanks to an online dashboard.”
According to the interim manager, Ploum’s ultimate goal with this cloud solution is to use the real-time reporting of Legalsense and TwinField to focus on its operating result. “The most important KPIs and turnover reports will be available to our board and the partners at all times and from any location. The same goes for the profit and loss figures. We need a certain amount of time to map out all the information we need and we will be expanding this further over the coming period, as we have done in the area of accounts receivable management. The starting point was to make sure first of all that all our people learned how to work with the systems efficiently.
We have already become more flexible as an organization and the new way of working already feels like second nature. Everything is working smoothly. What’s also nice is that even after the implementation process we can simply pick up the phone and call Visser & Visser. If we have any questions, they will support us with practical advice.”
At any time, from any location
Ewa says that as an IT manager she has never previously seen ‘employees show so much satisfaction with new software solutions’. “All our lawyers now enter their hours themselves digitally. They can do this very easily via Legalsense. We’ve noticed they are happy that they can now enter their hours directly via an app on their smartphone. Thanks to this app, they can access their hours at any time, from any location! I have genuinely never before worked with a system that is configured in such a user-friendly way.”
Boukje continues: “Preparing a statement of fees is also easier and takes less time, as fee earners and secretaries can now do this themselves. Previously, only the financial administration department could do this, which meant that sometimes you had to wait a while. Now a statement of fees can be sent out quickly. And there are plenty of other examples like this.”
Boukje acknowledges that Ploum initially opted for Visser & Visser due to its knowledge of both software and the legal profession. “It’s fantastic if someone speaks the language of your particular field. We quickly realized how great it was that this company also knew everything about accounting. There was no need for us to explain how advances and disbursements have to be entered or how you have to deal with trust accounts. We were even given specific advice on these matters and they were taken into account when the system was configured. It was a real weight off my mind to know that I no longer had to think about them. Transferring data to a new system is one thing, but this is a service that genuinely offers added value.”
Such is Ploum’s confidence in Visser & Visser that it has also approached the firm to take care of its annual audit. “We had a good accountant, but we wanted to find someone who knew more about our systems – about how they were implemented and the working relationship with the provider. Above all, however, we were looking for someone with knowledge of our field. Visser & Visser really understands how things work in the legal profession!”