Bookkeeping is a necessary evil for all businesses. If accounting is not your first love or chosen profession, then it is easily a pain point, especially when deciding what software to use.
If you are a legal firm, bookkeeping can be additionally daunting due to ethics rules and fiduciary responsibilities, which require firms to maintain funds in a Client Trust account. This blog post does not address the legal requirements of trust accounting— which vary in different jurisdictions—but rather only addresses the generic mechanical steps within BQE CORE accounting.
Lawyers who chose law school to avoid the field of accounting may cringe at the sheer thought of client trust accounting, but with BQE CORE, the process for Client Trust accounting is easily managed. Allow BQE CORE to empower you.
#1: What is Trust Fund Accounting
In the legal industry, it is common practice to utilize Trust accounts, or in some cases IOLTA accounts, to manage funds on behalf of a client. It is paramount to keep these funds separate from any of the firm’s operative bank accounts.
Therefore, when selecting a management or accounting software for your firm, it is important that it can address a more complex accounting structure.
BQE CORE makes Trust Fund accounting simple.
#2: Getting Started
In order to enable Trust Fund accounting for any file in BQE CORE, access the Company Menu then navigate to Global Settings > Accounting panel. Here, you will find the switch to Enable/Disable the Trust Fund Accounting feature. It is automatically turned on for the legal industry.
By turning on this feature, you are ready to set up your file. Next, you will customize your Chart of Accounts to reflect the account(s) you will identify to manage your client’s Trust Accounts.
Under the Chart of Accounts screen, we have added a new account type called “Bank (IOLTA),” also called a Trust Fund account. Begin by creating a Trust Fund Account of Type Bank (IOLTA) to track the funds you received from your client. This account will require another account linked with it (i.e. “Trust Fund Liability” account), which can be any “Other Current Liability” account for BQE CORE to handle Trust Fund Accounting. You must also decide whether you will be using a separate account for each client matter or whether one trust account will be used for multiple clients.
BQE recommends maintaining a separate Client Trust Fund account and Trust Fund Liability account for each Client’s Matter. This will ensure that each Trust Fund’s transactions are maintained with the highest integrity, easily reported on, and auditable.
#3: Client & Matter
After the Global Settings are updated and the appropriate accounts have been added to the firm’s Chart of Accounts, then Trust Fund Accounting is ready to go.
The first step is to ensure the Client Record is fully set up BQE CORE. Once the client has been established, the next step is to create the Matter associated with the Client Trust Account. When creating the Matter, make sure to specify the client’s Trust Fund account in the “Accounts & Class” section of the Matter > Billing options tab.
For more information, please see BQE CORE’s incredible video library in the Help Center to review either of these processes.
#4: Depositing Funds
For the Trust Fund account (i.e. Bank [IOLTA] account), users cannot specify an opening balance through the Chart of Accounts screen itself. This is because any transaction within the trust account should be linked to the Matter.
To enter the opening balance for the Trust Fund Account, a payment must be made through the Payments screen. First, select the Client and Matter to apply to the Opening Balance when creating the new payment. By specifying the Matter’s Trust Fund account as the “Deposit Account,” you will see an option to “Accept Trust Fund”. Select this option to accept the payment as a Trust Fund deposit.
This action will establish the opening balance for the Client’s Trust Fund account. Behind the scenes, the accounting detail will impact both the Client’s Trust Fund account as well as the Trust Fund Liability account.
#5: Paying Invoices
Invoices that have been raised by the firm for the Client’s Matter may be paid directly from the Client’s Trust account to the firm via the Payments screen. When creating a new payment, select the Client and Matter and then select the Payment Method: “Use Trust Account”. Enter the other payment details, such as date and amount, and apply the payment to the invoice as usual.
The payment will impact both the Client’s Trust Fund account and Trust Fund Liability account. Pay the open invoice and place the funds in the Undeposited Funds account so that it can be deposited in the Firm’s Operative Bank Account.
#6: Processing Client Expenses
When you incur an expense or disbursement on behalf of your client, you should enter it as a check, credit card, or vendor bill entry and use the Items tab so that you can add it as a billable expense to the Client’s Matter. This expense should then be invoiced to the client as you would invoice for your fees.
The invoice should be paid, as directed previously in this article, using the “Use Trust Account” payment method. Entering, invoicing, and paying the expense in this manner will ensure that there is a clear, reportable, and auditable record of how the Trust Fund account’s money has been used.
Final Thoughts on Trust Fund Accounting
BQE CORE was created with you in mind. It handles the complexities of the flow of money in and out of the Client’s Trust fund accounts. And it offers peace of mind of knowing that your accounting is set up properly. This means that you will be able to put your time and the attention back where it should be: with your clients’ matters and the growth of your business.
For more information, please contact your account representative today.