Setting Up A Legal Cashiering Function for SMB Legal Practices
Creating a Legal Cashiering system can be a complex process and any oversights could be costly and potentially problematic.
Protocols must be initiated with the Legal Accounts Manager for books and record maintenance, month-end procedures, VAT Returns, inter-bank payments (amongst other responsibilities) whilst ensuring that full compliance is maintained with the Solicitors' Code of Conduct and the Solicitors' Accounts Rules.
Policies & Procedures
You may already have a set of policies and procedures in place. You may be a new Practice that needs to draw some up. We would expect to find as standard:
- A finance manual
- A client Account policy
- A client interest policy
- Breach policy
- Money Laundering policy
- Anti Bribery policy
We are able to review any existing policies and procedures to ensure that they are compliant with the Solicitors' Accounts Rules, are robust and are able to be practically followed and undertaken.
We also have a standard set of policies and procedures in addition to payment requests and receipt forms which we are able to adapt to your firm and implement.
The policies and procedures are integral to the Outsourced Cashiering process, ensuring that roles are defined, processes are defined and it is clear how the firm is complying with its Regulatory obligations and practically undertaking them on a day-to-day basis.
The first step in setting up an Outsourced process is to agree on the policies and procedures.
Finance Manual – The Finance Manual should detail each process in the finance department, how it should be requested and how it should be undertaken. It can be a dual-use document for use internally by staff members and the Legal Cashier or it can be split into two separate documents –
1. For use internally by staff members – Detailing the steps required to request a disbursement posting, office payment, client account, payment, etc, the forms required to make the request, the authorisation required for the request and who to send it to.
2. For use by the Cashier/COFA/COLP – to detail the processes to undertake each action and each step required on the Practice Management System to post each action.
Client Account Policy – This should detail the acceptable uses for the client account linking in to the Money Laundering Policy. Should funds only be accepted from fully identified clients? Should the Managing Partner approve each use of the Client Account? Who should approve payments from the Client Account?
The policy should clearly define the role that the Client Account plays in protecting Client Money, prohibits usage as a banking facility and defines who is able to approve withdrawals from the Client Account.
Client Interest Policy– The Client Interest Policy is the firm's own interest policy, usually written into the terms of business or engagement letter. No longer are prescribed rules laid down – Each firm should set its own “fair” and “reasonable” policy in order to pay away interest to clients.
Breach Policy – This should outline the measures the firm uses to monitor compliance with the Solicitors' Accounts Rules and how it records breaches – Preferably in a central breach register. The breach register should be monitored and discussed with the COFA and COLP at regular intervals.
Money Laundering Policy – There should be an appointed Money Laundering Officer or contact within the firm and an accompanying policy that determines how clients are identified upon engagement and how funds will be identified and processed upon receipt into the firm. Client Account transactions can be a target for laundering funds and therefore guidance through policy should be delivered to the firm and Legal Cashiers.
Anti Bribery Policy – A policy should be in place to discourage bribery of any form within or outside the firm. Business decisions should be made upon merits.
Being able to access the Practice Management System is fairly integral to providing an Outsourced Legal Cashiering service.
Cloud – The PMS maybe hosted online via a Cloud platform such as LEAP or Clio – In which case, we should be easily able to access the system via a web browser or online program. We will require a license to be able to access the system and undertake postings.
Supplier Hosted – The PMS maybe hosted by the Software Supplier on their own servers. Permission will be required by the Software Supplier to provide access to the supplier hosted version of the PMS and possible Citrix connection. Costs will include a user license and possible Citrix or network charges by the software supplier.
Locally Hosted – If the PMS software is stored locally on the firm's server or a single desktop computer a connection into your network is required. There are various ways of doing this that vary depending on your current setup and what the best approach for us to be able to connect is. Overall, we try to keep our solutions as flexible as possible and we should be able to find one suited to you. Costs will usually include a user license, any hardware required and any negligible subscription costs for remote software such as Teamviewer.
The simplest solution is a remote desktop connection to a server utilising remote desktop services. Another method available is connecting to a server with the capability to host a virtual machine. We could then remote connect to a virtual machine within your network.
If you don’t have a server to make any of the prior solutions possible, we could also set up a physical desktop computer onsite that we will be able to access remotely using software such as Teamviewer. This would require the most time to set up but would be a working solution if others are not possible.
If none of these solutions would be suitable for your firm, we would have to discuss other possible options for access.
Roles & Responsibilities
Once Policies and Procedures and IT framework is established, it is important to define roles and responsibilities between the Legal Practice and Ascentant Legal Cashiers.
Ascentant can only process information that it is provided with. Should information be fully available to Cashiers with read only access to the bank? Or should the Practice Manager or Managing Partner only provide bank statements?
Who should be responsible for producing receipt slips or payment forms? How should the Legal Cashier accept their instructions?
A matrix should be completed and incorporated into the Finance Manual, detailing the responsibilities between the Legal Practice to provide information and the Legal Cashier to be able to act upon it.
|Bank Statements||Practice Manager to provide bank statements daily?||Cashier to be given read only access to bank?|
|Disbursement Postings||Practice Manager to email to Cashier?||Cashier to post to PMS?|
|Disbursement Payments||Practice Manager to pay on bank? Or instruct Cashier to pay?||Cashier to post payment to PMS? Cashier to make bank payment?|
|Client Account Receipts||Practice Manager to complete receipt form?||Cashier to post receipt to PMS?|
|Client Account Payments||Practice Manager to complete payment form? Or make full bank payment?||Cashier to make bank payment? Cashier to post payment?|
|Client Billing||Practice Manager to run billing guides?||Cashier to produce full bills, send out and post to PMS?|
|Credit Control||No role||Cashier to chase all outstanding debts?|