Terms/Forgiveness for PPP and EIDL

Did you hear?  Congress passed a second COVID-19 stimulus package this week.  Yay!  They got it done just in time before the end of the year, and the end of many federal aid packages that came along with it. 

In addition to direct stimulus payments to individuals, additional funding for unemployment, and other aid programs, the package also provides over $300 billion in financial aid for small businesses.  Congress also clarified the uncertain tax implications of funding received by small businesses through loans and grants provided under the CARES Act and this new lifeline.   This is great news for small business owners since many of the opportunities to get support from the CARES Act programs were long gone.  Although the recent vaccine developments provide a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, many small businesses are in dire need of support to stay afloat.  This new package will hopefully help more small businesses weather the rest of the storm.

Your business may be eligible for first-time or additional forgivable loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”). For more information visit sba.gov.  The new stimulus package expands both the scope of businesses that can apply for PPP loans and the permitted uses of funds from the loans.  Congress also made it clear that payments made with the funds from these support programs are, indeed, deductible on your taxes. 

Let’s take a quick look at the aid provided this go around, and the differences between the programs coming out of this package and the original CARES Act.

PPP forgivable loans

The new package reopens and expands the PPP after the last PPP round ended in August 2020.  Congress expanded both the types of business entities that are eligible to apply and the permitted uses for funds obtained through the PPP. 

In addition to the types of entities that could obtain PPP loans through the original CARES Act (e.g. businesses eligible for other SBA small business loans), the new package allows 501(c)(6) business associations (e.g. chambers of commerce) to be eligible PPP borrowers if they meet certain criteria. 

The CARES Act also limited use of PPP funds to certain specific categories: payroll, rent payments, mortgage interest payments, and utilities.  Funds obtained under this new law’s PPP round may also be used for certain health protective costs (e.g. personal protective equipment), essential supplies, and operating costs itemized in the new act. 

Many small businesses obtained both PPP loans and EIDL grants following passage of the CARES Act.  Under the CARES Act, businesses could receive an advance on their EIDL grant that did not have to be refunded even if the grant ultimately was not given.  However, the amount of any EIDL advance received had to be deducted from the amount of forgiveness sought under the PPP.  Congress removed that requirement in this new package and you no longer have to deduct your EIDL advance from the forgiveness sought under your PPP loan.

Also, don’t just dismiss this new stimulus package if you already received funds through the PPP!  The expanded PPP allows for a second forgivable loan if your business meets three criteria: (1) it has 300 or fewer employees; (2) has used or will use all funds from the first PPP loan; and (3) can show a 25% reduction in revenue between any quarter in 2020 with its corresponding quarter in 2019 (e.g. Q1 2019 v. Q1 2020).  So even if you already received PPP funds, you may be eligible for more!

Tax implications

Last, and certainly not least, Congress overruled the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) with regard to deductibility of payments made using PPP funds.  The original CARES Act provided that funds obtained through PPP loans and EIDL grants were not included in your gross taxable income.  However, the IRS followed that up with a notice and ruling providing their interpretation that since the loans and grants were tax exempt, any payments made with those funds were not tax deductible.  The IRS’s stance was met with complaints that Congress never would have intended for that result with a support bill.  Congress spoke up and confirmed that to be the case by including a provision in the new package providing that tax deductions cannot be refused for payments made using these funds.

We’re here to help! 

If you are one of the many businesses needing help to get through the COVID-19 crisis, get in touch today https://skepsistech.com/contact-us/ and we can help you determine what aid you may be eligible for and help you navigate the PPP, its application, and forgiveness processes!

Preparing Law Firm Books for Year-End: A Step-By-Step Guide

How to prepare your law firm books for year end

It’s that time again!  Holidays, eggnog, sparkles, and fun.  Time to celebrate the end of one year (even if 2020 isn’t exactly worth celebrating) and set ourselves up for success in the next.

It also means tax time, 1099s, and other year-end financial must-dos are right around the corner.  If we set aside just a few minutes to organize our year-end now, we’ll find ourselves much less stressed and overwhelmed when that new year, and those tax deadlines, roll around.  So in this post, we’ve put together a practical, step-by-step guide to setting yourself and your firm up for a win this new year.

Let’s dive right in.  If you’d like more detail on these steps, check out Skepsis Tech’s year-end prep guide.

Step 1. Make time to work ON your firm, not just IN it.

Action item:  Open up your calendar.  Set aside one hour each week between now and January 31 to work on your firm’s financials.  Here are some pro tips from our lead Law Firm Financial Strategist:

  • If you have a lot to do, for example you haven’t done your reconciliations all year, you may need to set aside more time.  But at the very least, get that one hour on there so you’ll be that much farther along than you would have been.
  • Fridays are great for this.  By Friday, we’ve been working hard on legal issues all week, and our brains are giving us diminishing returns.  Turning to something different on a Friday afternoon, when it’s hard to focus on the legal work, gives you something fresh to work on.
  • It’s the holidays.  Give yourself and your firm the most precious gift of all – your time.  Because you deserve it.

Frolic and detour.  What do we mean by working ON your business instead of in it?  Working IN your business means delivering legal services to your clients.  Working ON your business means delivering services to yourself and your firm, whether that’s in the form of hiring and training, marketing, lead development, or – our personal favorite – financial planning.

Step 2. Complete IOLTA 3-Ways

Action item:  Make sure you have your IOLTA 3-Ways completed through November, and that your 3-Way reports are safely stored and backed up.  Pro tips:

  • If you’re not sure what an IOLTA 3-Way is, keep an eye on the Skepsis blog for an upcoming post that will boil it down to easy-to-follow, financial-mumbo-jumbo-free, concrete steps.
  • We do this step before diving into any work required for tax time because, if we don’t satisfy our ethical duties in RPC 1.15A and RPC 1.15B, we could find ourselves without a law firm to file taxes for.

Step 3.  Complete Operating Reconciliations

Action item:  Complete reconciliations of all your operating accounts through November.  This includes any and all checking, savings, credit card, investment, loan, line of credit, and other non-trust bank accounts you may have.   Pro tips:

  • Use real bookkeeping software.  Excel is not bookkeeping software, and by trying to make it work, you will lose far more valuable time than the money you save.  For example, Xero is only $32/month, and if your billable rate is $300/hr, that means you only have to bill an extra .1 hour each month to cover the cost; meanwhile, you’ll be saving far more of your own time than those six minutes, which is a win for both you and your firm.
  • If you haven’t done reconciliations for a while, it can be daunting.  Take it one account and one month at a time.  Or, consider investing in a bookkeeper for a one-time catch-up.
  • If you do think you’d like a bookkeeper’s help, book early.  They fill up QUICK in January!

Step 4.  Prepare Draft 1099s and Request W-9s

Action Item:  Most bookkeeping software has a 1099 area within the software that will help to manage your 1099s for you.  Go there, and set up your 1099 rules.  Now run a 1099 report to see who’s on your list.  Do you have a current W-9 from each of them?  If not, request one now.  Here’s what we’ve learned over the years about 1099s:

  • When you request a W-9 from your vendor, they generally have 30 days to get it back to you.  1099s are due to vendors and the IRS by January 31.  So, if you wait until January 2 to start requesting those W-9s, you’re likely to miss your deadline.
  • Not sure what rules to set up?  This article from the IRS will help you figure out who will need a 1099 so you can deduce what rules your firm might need in there.
  • Use a 3rd-party service, such as Track1099.com, to make sure your 1099s get issued and filed correctly.  These services are inexpensive, not more than a few dollars per 1099, and they save law firms significant time in printing and mailing forms, tracking returned mail, and IRS filings.

Step 5. Spring Cleaning

Action item: Review your account balances to make sure they’re accurate.  It’s not spring, but every year every firm ends up with “straggler transactions” – that is, transactions living somewhere they shouldn’t.  A quick review of your balances can help eliminate back-and-forth from your CPA at tax time.  Skepsis’ pro tips:

  • If you’re using QuickBooks, these often hide in the Undeposited Funds account.
  • Other accounts include Suspense, Opening Balance Equity, Adjustments, and Ask My CPA.  These are typically temporary accounts that ought to zero out by year-end.
  • Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable are also common culprits here.  Make sure their balance reflects the actual amount due to and from the firm.

Step 6.  Remove Stale Transactions

Action Item: In your bookkeeping software, do a search for transactions that meet both of the following criteria: (1) not reconciled; and (2) on any date through the end of November.  Typically, at least a few transactions will show up, and you’ll need to figure out why these didn’t reconcile and fix them.  Some common things to look out for:

  • Checks you mailed out but that haven’t been cashed.  Contact the recipient and ask them to cash it; or, if they’ve lost it, stop payment on the lost check and issue a new one.
  • Some unreconciled transactions are actually duplicates of a reconciled transaction, so you can just delete that unreconciled duplicate.
  • Some transactions just occurred in the last few weeks, and you expect them to clear soon, so we’ll just leave those on the books.

Step 5. Review Draft Financial Statements.

Action item: Prepare a YTD (year-to-date) profit and loss statement and balance sheet.  Sit down and give the numbers a hard look – what’s surprising?  Pro tips:

  • A profit and loss statement is also referred to as a P&L, or an income statement.
  • When you see a number that surprises you, dig into the individual transactions.  Are they all categorized correctly?  Did you just spend more than you expected, so you’ll need to adjust your expectations for your spending in the coming year?
  • Prepare financial statements that show at least 3-6 months of data, with a YTD total at the end.  This will help you identify outliers that should be double-checked.  For example, maybe your typical spend on rent is $1000/month.  You see that in July, you spent $5,000.  Did you incur significant extra rent costs that you can better manage in the upcoming year, or is something categorized incorrectly?

Step 6.  Kick Back and Enjoy the Holidays

Action item: Did you really do each and every action item above?  Or did you just read about them?  I’ve tried reading about doing things before, and sadly (and much to my surprise sometimes), reading about them doesn’t actually get them done.  So, if there’s any step you haven’t completed above, go back and actually do it.  It may take time, but your firm is worth the time and attention.  Your clients are also worth it, because preparing now means you won’t have to blow them off in January because you’re buried in a mad scramble to close out 2020.  Once all the steps are done, here’s what our team at Skepsis recommends:

  • Make candied orange peels.  This is one of our favorite seasonal activities.  The candy is amazing, and the simple syrup byproduct is even better.  Here’s one recipe we love.
  • Book a day off.  It can be tough to get away from your business.  Once you’ve made the investment, get out your calendar, and mark yourself as OOO (that is, out of office) the entire day.  You’ve earned it.
  • Make a 2021 plan.  Now is the time to set yourself up for success in 2021.  What are your financial goals for the upcoming year?  What are your goals for number of hours worked next year?  How’s that different from last year?  Then, plot your course from A to B.

If you’d like more information about any of the steps above or other year-end matters, don’t hesitate to book a free discovery call with Skepsis Tech.  We’re passionate about helping attorneys improve their work/life balance while still reaching their financial goals.  2020 may have been nothing like any of us expected, but all it takes is a little planning and some simple steps to finish 2020 strong, and set yourself up for success in 20201.

Cashflow for Law Firms with Xero

New: Short-Term Cash Flow Feature for Xero Users

Skepsis Technologies would like to welcome our current clients to Xero’s new feature, Short-Term Cash flow. This feature allows you to project your business cash flow for 7 – 30 days all in one place! You can access this new feature by going to the Business Menu. Then, in the dropdown menu, select Short-term cash flow.

Would your law firm like access to short-term cashflow projections and other game-changing financial insight? Schedule a consultation with Skepsis today.

Short-term cashflow management is a key step in building a healthy law firm, including one that can weather everything from pandemics to your own vacation. Not only is that key data point critical for law firms, but the visualization is what gives that data meaning.

Screenshot of how Xero helps law firms project short-term cashflow

“Once you’re capturing all the right data in Xero, you’re in a great position to track your cash flow and build a robust buffer against unforeseen bumps.”

Andy Muir, Xero Advisor

How does it work? The short-term cash flow feature takes relevant data from your Xero account, including bank account data, bills, and invoices, to give law firms an up-to-date view of the firm’s cash flow, all in one place. Using this data, it projects available cash 30 days into the future, showing the impact of existing bills and invoices if they’re paid on time. This helps firm owners make strategic and client-centric decisions about how and when to follow up with invoices, the hidden costs of using the wrong vendors or holding on to the wrong clients, and more.

Skepsis Technologies works exclusively with law firms, because our owner is a lawyer. We’ve been in your shoes, and we we’ve weathered the storms. Your law firm has untapped potential – our job is to find it and tap it.

Law Firms Should Use Auto-Pay

Auto-Pay: It’s Ethical, Better For Your Law Firm, And Better For Your Clients

Clients want convenience, and paying bills is inconvenient.  This is especially true in the oft-archaic practice of law.  But it doesn’t have to be!  In many other facets of life, people can pre-authorize automatic payments for their bills.  Gone are the days of buying a stamp and dropping a check in the mail, or even going online and logging into an account just to process a payment every month.  The rest of the world has adopted auto-pay and, as the smart and savvy attorney that you are, you can too. What’s more, with auto-pay, you’ll see your payment rates skyrocket, and bill disputes diminish.

I know what you’re thinking: “Wait, can I do that?!  What about the RPCs?!”  Again, as the smart and savvy attorney that you are, you’re right to be concerned about ethics.  My discussion in this post considers the rules for Washington State (since that is where most of Skepsis’ bookkeeping clients are located), but all attorneys need to comply with their respective state’s Rules of Professional Conduct (those “RPCs” you asked about) and you should confirm the ethical implications of auto-pay with your licensing state’s ethics officials.

Law firms have been able to collect bill payments by credit card for decades. The American Bar Association (“ABA”) issued an ethics opinion 40+ years ago in 1975 opining that credit card payments were ethical under the ABA’s Model Rules. Yes, those same Model Rules that many states’ RPCs mirror, or at least use as their basis. (Note: The opinion was later withdrawn for other reasons; see https://lawyersusaonline.com/blog/2009/03/16/can-i-put-that-on-your-card/.) The Washington State Bar Association (“WSBA”) even has a recommended credit card processor, with a special discount for WSBA-licensed attorneys.

With credit card payments permitted, the next logical step is getting a pre-authorization from your client to charge or debit his or her account for payment of earned legal fees as the bills come due.  WSBA Advisory Opinion 1826 previously contemplated exactly that.  Specifically, the WSBA’s Ethics Committee considered “whether it is ethical to charge legal fees and costs to a client’s credit card sixty days after billing the client when the client has authorized such a charge in an engagement letter.” They found doing so ethical “assuming that the fee has been earned, is reasonable, has not been contested and that the fee agreement complies in other respects with [the RPCs governing fees].”  Additionally, since you are not charging or debiting the client’s account until after you have already performed the services you’re being paid for, the funds can be deposited directly into your operating account.  WSBA Advisory Opinion #2108 goes a step further and says that you can even use a payment processing service that puts the funds in your account at the service provider prior to the funds going to your operating account, so long as the funds are payment for services already rendered. 

The WSBA’s Ethics Committee even said in Advisory Opinion #2214 that an attorney can charge his or her client for the fees associated with making the credit card payment.  They noted that RPC 1.5(a) allows an attorney to collect reasonable costs associated with the representation of a client and that Comment 1 to RPC 1.5 further clarified the rule by permitting attorneys to charge clients “for the cost of services performed in-house, such as copying, or for other expenses incurred in-house, such as telephone charges.”  

Pro tip: At Skepsis, we don’t generally recommend that law firms pass along credit card fees directly to their clients; even though it’s ethical, there are larger business and marketing considerations that generally prevail, and other ways to absorb those fees that are more palatable to clients. More importantly, directly passing along credit card fees to the client is typically a violation of your card processing agreement.

The RPCs require an attorney to wait a reasonable amount of time after sending a client their bill to withdraw payment from client funds held in a trust account. You should do the same in an auto-pay situation.  Waiting for five days after sending the client their bill will give them an opportunity to raise any disputes prior to your taking possession of their funds.  The bar likes this because it provides a layer of protection to clients by giving them a chance to challenge the bill, but you should also like it because it gives you an opportunity to avoid the headache of moving funds around into a trust account for the client if they raise a dispute after the funds are in your possession.  The client’s payment of the bill won’t extinguish their right to challenge the bill, but if there is something wrong the client is likely to raise the issue prior to your taking their money.

Lastly, as with nearly anything you do for your client, you should clearly communicate to them how your billing system works. You should especially be clear on things like the billing cycle, when bills will be sent to the client, when the client’s account will be charged or debited and, if you use a third party service, how that service works and what information of the client it may require.

Setting up an auto-pay system for your firm can provide you with more certainty and provide more convenience for your client. If you’re interested in developing an auto-pay system for your firm’s clients, Skepsis can help with everything from engagement letter language to processors to everything in between. Get in touch with us here.

Your Law Firm Will Thrive In 2020 With Just One Word

2020's Word of the Year: A Word Your Firm – And Your Life – Will Thrive By

Business management is more than just running a business, and the nuts and bolts of it. There are so many intangibles that affect our businesses and our clients each day. As small business owners, the stakes are even higher, because so often business management and life management are one and the same. Regardless of what we’re managing, we need tools to make good decisions. One of the toolboxes I work hard to educate my law firm bookkeeping clients about are financial tools: financial management best practices, understanding and using financial reports, making profitable decisions, and more. But, there’s another tool I’ve recently implemented in my bookkeeping practice that can have huge power in positive transformation for law firms also, and that’s the Word of the Year. It needs a catchier name, so please do propose one in the comments below, but we’ll just call it like it is for now. It’s another tool in my business and life management arsenal that I rely on each and every day to make great decisions for me, my business, my clients, and my life. And in 2020, the word is: Elevate.

A few months back, my business coach put forth the idea of trashing professional new year resolutions, and instead choosing an annual word. (Sidenote: Of course I work with a business coach. Studies are showing that humans are smarter in groups, and no small business owner should give themselves the disadvantage of not having valuable advisors to rely on, which is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about solo and small law firms hiring full-service bookkeepers. But, that could be its own topic in its entirety, and I digress.)

At first, the idea of an annual word sounded a bit odd, and I wasn’t quite sure where to start. So, with some prodding, my coach and I arrived at the term “up-level” as a good place to start. It has since morphed into a term with even deeper meaning for me: Elevate.

I first came to regard the word Elevate when my six-year-old became addicted to cooking shows, specifically those of the Gordon Ramsey variety. No, not the ones where he’s throwing f-bombs at poor untrained fry cooks. I mean Master Chef Junior, where he inflicts compassionate yet tough love to help some amazing kid-chefs blossom into top-rated underage professionals. In that show, world-reknown chef Gordon Ramsey continually hammers on elevating the kids’ cooking. He explains how a gourmet chef and a fry cook can both put together a mean grilled cheese sandwich, but the difference between the two is that the gourmet chef will “elevate” the dish. The gourmet chef won’t just choose any bread and any cheese, but will select breads and cheeses specifically designed to enhance the depth of flavor in the dish. The gourmet chef will further elevate it by ensuring the bread and cheese both have precisely the correct ratios of crunchy and gooey textures. A gourmet chef will also pay close attention that the presentation of the dish is polished and professional – no greasy paper plates here. All of this provides elevation in many different aspects: it elevates the chef’s experience in making the dish with the challenge of problem-solving and navigating the complexity of a perfect grilled cheese sandwich, and the pride of knowing that the end result is top-knotch; it elevates the dish itself, taking it off the menu at the local greasy spoon to the featured item in a posh downtown deli; it elevates the diner’s experience from a quick, choke-it-down meal to a completely delightful gastronomic experience. When the chef elevates his product, the elevation has a ripple effect that positively impacts others. And that’s what I consistently strive for, and what I’m now focusing on in 2020: Elevation.

Just like the chef, my own Elevation is having ripple effects that have just been a delight to see, and have improved almost every aspect of my life, my business, and even my clients’ businesses. My own Elevation comes in many different forms, all of which have been beyond gratifying to see when I focus on Elevation as my goal. In my business life, I have elevated my services to only provide full-service bookkeeping. This, in turn, has allowed me to elevate my service level to my clients. That has led to elevation in my clients’ firms, with direct results in improving things like collections, revenues, profits, and even attorney free time. I have elevated my client service and client response times. I have even elevated my clients’ profit, and my own firm’s profit, while elevating the quality of my personal life with more and higher-quality family and personal time.

There are other ways that I am implementing Elevation in my life this year. I elevating my attitude. Not that I typically have a bad attitude (I don’t think – I’m sure some opposing counsel I’ve dealt with might disagree), but I am also Elevating my attitude, by making a conscious decision to approach challenges and stressors positively. I also work hard and deliberately to elevate others; by referring others who need attorneys to my bookkeeping clients; by refraining from gossip be it professional or personal; and by recognizing others’ strengths, and maximizing those in a way that allows us to elevate one another. Whether it’s my clients or my husband or my kids, I’m taking them with me to the top – to Elevation.

This word has become the central theme of 2020, and has helped me to improve my business and my life more than I ever could have expected a single word could. When I face a difficult decision, or maybe just don’t feel like doing much that day, I go back to my word for inspiration. I am Elevating.

So, what’s your Word of the Year – your Guiding Principle – for 2020? How are you putting it into practice?

Washington has temporarily halted enforcement of its B&O tax surcharge on law firms. What does that mean for your firm?

WA Temporarily Halts Collection of B&O Surcharge on Law Firms

A few months back, we let you know about the new surcharge law firms will have to pay on B&O tax starting in January 2020.  In effect, the new law increases your law firm’s B&O tax by 20%, from a rate of 1.5% to 1.8%.  There’s been a new development, and it’s both good and bad news for law firms.

The good news is that the Washington Department of Revenue (DOR) will NOT be collecting the surcharge for January 2020.  They haven’t said if they’ll collect it for February and beyond.  The reason they’re not collecting it is because there’s a bill on the table to partially repeal that tax. If you’re interested, you can download the text of that bill here. (It’s SB 4874.2.)

The bad news for us attorneys is, the partial repeal of the surcharge is only for doctors and veterinarians, so when the DOR does start enforcing it, we’ll still have to pay the surcharge even if the partial repeal passes.  

But, at least we get a break for a bit. 

Skepsis’ full-service bookkeeping for law firms includes filing and compliance with all Washington State tax reporting requirements. Click here to book an exploratory call today to see how Skepsis can keep you compliant, increase your bottom line, and give you more time for what’s important.

How Washington's New Workforce Education Surcharge Applies To Law Firms

How Washington's New Workforce Education Surcharge Applies To Law Firms

Law firms all around the state are receiving letters from the Washington State Department of Revenue regarding the new Workforce Education Surcharge.

Washington Department of Revenue Workforce Education Surcharge Notice Letter

And of course the big question is: What does this mean as far as what I pay in taxes?

For most Washington law firms, the new surcharge effectively changes your B&O tax rate from 1.5% to 1.8% of gross revenues. (Not profit, but gross revenues. That means that you pay the tax on all the money you bring in, without deducting any expenses.) This surcharge applies to income generated January 1, 2020 and later. In other words, you will first report and pay the surcharge on: (1) your January 2020 tax filing for monthly filers; (2) your first quarter 2020 tax filing for quarterly filers; and (3) your annual 2020 tax filing for annual filers.

As with any law, there are some nuances and exceptions. For more information about the surcharge, check out the DOR’s explanation here. To review the complete text of the law, see RCW 82.04.229. Or, to discuss the new surcharge or any other bookkeeping matters with a member of the Skepsis team, request a consultation here.

Practical Tips for Assembling and Managing a Successful Remote Legal Staff Team

More and more small law firms are opting to put together a team of remote staff. Studies are showing that companies built around remote workers experience less turnover, because the workers are happier and more productive than those who sit in an office. However, while there are clear advantages, assembling and managing remote team members also comes with its challenges. If you’re looking to build a remote legal staff team, here are some practical tips to keep in mind:

Compare Freelance and Employment

One of the first things you want to do when assembling your legal staff is to decide between hiring freelancers or employees. Freelancers and employees share many similarities, but there are also several differences to consider. Hiring a freelancer can be less expensive, provide a sense of flexibility, and require less paperwork. However, they typically work for several law firms at once, so they may not always be available at a moment’s notice. On the other hand, employees work primarily for your law firm. They are likely to commit to your firm at a higher level, invest more in the firm’s culture, and build stronger relationships with team members. Evaluate what your law firm needs the most so that you can make the best decision.

Regardless of whether you choose to build your law firm around freelancers or employees, you need to understand essential employment laws. For instance, do your research and become well-versed in employment tax, workers’ compensation, the Family Medical Leave Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Doing so may help you prevent an unnecessary lawsuit or other legal issues.

Stress Communication

Communication is key in any business setting, and it can get tricky when your team members are in different cities or countries. Also, it’s easier to ignore an email than it is to tell your boss that you’re skipping the staff meeting in the next room. Before you hire anyone, stress the importance of communication, make it clear when everyone should be accessible to talk, and schedule regular virtual team meetings and/or phone calls to keep everyone on the same page.

Rely on Technology

Embrace technology to foster better interaction and communication. Look into apps like Slack so staff can enjoy water cooler moments or stay in quick contact, and transcription services to ensure all meeting notes are recorded and readily available. This also establishes a safety net so people can easily refer to notes and conversations 24/7.

Keep it Brief

When you have meetings or phone calls, keep them as brief as possible. Particularly when you’re managing a remote legal staff, taking too long to make your points or present your goals wastes valuable time. Be well prepared and concise with all correpondence—whether it’s through email, in a group meeting, over a phone call, or any other form of communication.

Foster Cohesion

Cohesion is another vital element, and it can be challenging to develop and maintain cohesion when your legal team includes remote staff. Start by introducing team members to one another each time a new staff member comes on board; when relationships develop and team members know how to share a laugh, it can improve productivity exponentially. Also, provide team members with important internal communication tools so they can talk and work together regularly.

Show Team Members That You Trust Them

Finally, nothing can breed discontent in a team more quickly than implying that you mistrust your staff. If you don’t trust that a potential staff member will produce the work you need them to, you shouldn’t hire them. While you may need to give specific instructions on projects and tasks, make it clear that you trust the abilities and intentions of each team member. Don’t micromanage every time you give an assignment.

If you want your remote legal staff to help grow your business, it’s important to come at it with the right approach. Make you sure you understand whether you need freelancers or employees, and become familiar with the various employment laws. Create reasonable communication guidelines, and keep communication times concise and effective. Lastly, take the necessary steps to develop and maintain cohesion within your team, and make it clear that you trust your team members.

Photo Credit: Pexels

Skepsis CEO Devon Thurtle Anderson Named Top Attorney

Devon Thurtle Anderson Named Top Attorney for Eighth Year In A Row

At Skepsis, you may know that we provide superior bookkeeping, virtual assistant, and software consulting services for attorneys. But what you may not know is how we gained our expertise helping law firms. The answer is simple: Skepsis CEO, Devon Thurtle Anderson, is widely recognized as a top attorney. Today, we are pleased to announce that, for the eighth year in a row, Devon has been named a top attorney by Super Lawyers.  After a rigorous nomination and research process, Devon is recognized as one of the top 2.5% of attorneys under 40 in Washington State.

Devon M. Thurtle Anderson
Rated by Super Lawyers

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Super Lawyers selects attorneys using a patented multiphase selection process. The process includes peer nominations and evaluations, along with independent research. Super Lawyers evaluates each candidate on 12 indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement. Selections are made on an annual, state-by-state basis. The objective is to create a credible, comprehensive, and diverse listing of outstanding attorneys that can be used as a resource for attorneys and consumers searching for legal counsel.

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How To Automatically Create Custom Documents With Clio Templates

Simple Document Automation with Clio

One great feature about Clio – but often underutilized – is Clio’s simple and easy document automation process.  This article will show you, step-by-step, how to do simple and easy document automation in Clio.  I highly recommend you open up Clio and walk through this tutorial yourself in real-time.  If you don’t already have a Clio account, you can register for a free trial here.

Step 1: Figure Out What Custom Data (“Fields”) You’ll Be Using.

First, you’ll need to understand what data you plan to use in your document.  A piece of data is called a “field,” and you fill in “fields” every time you create a new matter or contact; all that information you enter into Clio becomes a field.  Frequently used fields include client names, client addresses, matter numbers, and the like.  It can also include insurance claim numbers, bail bond amounts, spouse’s names, and more.  To see what fields already exist in your Clio database, go to Settings > Documents.  You can view the complete list of available fields there.

Clio Settings srcset= Documents for checking list of template fields” width=”720″ height=”479″>

Clio Template Fields

Now, compare that list to the custom data you’ll need for your document automation.  Use Ctrl + F (Windows) or Command + F (Mac) to search the list for any fields you plan to use.  If they’re all there, you can skip Step 2.  But, if you need any custom fields, make those in Step 2.

Step 2: Set Up Clio Custom Fields.

Custom fields are one of the tools that make Clio’s document automation extremely powerful.  You can automatically drop any data you like into a Clio-generated document.  If the data isn’t already in your fields list (which we checked in Step 1 above) – such as an executor or personal representative – you’ll create a custom field.  For each custom field that you’ll need, do the following.

In Clio, click Settings > Custom Fields:

Clio Settings - Custom Fields

Now, click the green “Add” button in the upper right.

Clio Custom Fields - Add

Enter the name of your custom field, and the type of information that will go there.  For example, if you are adding the field Personal Representative, the “Type” will be “Contact Select,” because you’ll be selecting the Personal Representative from your Clio contacts.

How To Add Clio Custom Fields

There are a few additional options:

  • Default: Use this if you want this field to appear in every new matter you create.
  • Required: Use this if you also want it to be required for every matter.  Note that, if you check this box, you should also check “Default,” or else you may get errors when trying to create matters.

Repeat this step for each custom field you’ll need.

Step 3: Prepare Your Document Template.

Now that we have all the custom data we’ll need, it’s time to prepare our template.  To do this, go back to your list of document fields in Settings > Documents.  Keep that window open.

Now, move into Word (or Excel or PowerPoint for the appropriate document type), and open the document that will be your template.  Type out your letter, cover sheet, contact form, or whatever the particular document is.

Now, click back to Clio.  Find the field you want to insert, and click the little clipboard icon next to it to copy that field to your computer’s clipboard.  Pro tip: Having trouble finding the filed you need in that long list?  In Clio, type Ctrl + F (Windows) or Command + F (Mac) to search the list.


Using Clio Custom Fields In Word Templates

Go back to your Word doc. Place your cursor where you want the field data to appear in your letter, and click Ctrl + V (Windows) or Command + V (Mac) to paste the field’s placeholder.

Clio Document Automation With Word - Where To Click

Repeat this process for each piece of custom information in your document.

Clio Custom Automated Document in Word

Now, save your document as a Word document (.doc or .docx – do not save as a template, .dot or .dotx).

Step 4: Upload Your Template To Clio

Once you’ve inserted all your form fields using the process above, upload the doc back to Clio.  To do this, click back over to Clio, and click Documents > Templates.  Then click the green “Add” button.

Upload automated document template from Word to Clio

Choose your file, and select your document category.  Click Save.

Upload automated document template to Clio

You document is ready for future use!

Step 5: Automatically Generate Custom Documents In Clio!

Despite the number of steps above, when you walk through it, you’ll find that the document preparation process is pretty efficient, and goes pretty quickly.  Which is good, because it means it won’t be long until you’re using your custom documents.  To do so:

Click Documents > Clio.  Click the little arrow next to “New,” and click “Document from template.”

How to create a new automated custom document in Clio

Select your template, matter, and output format (PDF, Word, or both).  Click “Create.”

How to create an automated custom Word or PDF in Clio

When the document is ready, Clio will tell you to refresh your browser. You can do that, but it’s usually easier to go straight to the matter for which you just generated the document. To go straight there, type the first few letters/numbers of the matter number into the search box at the top, then click the matter when it appears.

It's easiest to access automated Clio Word and PDF documents from the specific matter

In the matter, click Documents > Clio.  Click the folder that matches the document category you selected above.

How to access custom automated work and pdf documents in Clio

Click the name of the document to download a copy and review or edit.  Or, if it’s ready to go, click “Share” to send the document straight to the client via Clio’s secure portal, or by email.

How do you use document automation in Clio?  Engagement letters, wills, powers of attorney, corporate resolutions, articles of incorporation, operating agreements, contracts, licenses…. Pretty much anything you re-generate based on old documents is a great candidate for document automation in Clio.

Want to give Clio a free spin?  Get your free trial account here.