Today there are many options available for law firm accounting. So many, it can be daunting, and outright confusing (especially given the mix and overlap of some law firm accounting software and law practice management software.)
In this article, we’ll explain the different types of law firm accounting software, the relationship between practice management and accounting, law firm-specific accounting features to consider or loo for, and our list of the top law firm accounting software in 2021.
Let’s get started.
Types of Law Firm Accounting Software
A common point of confusion are the different types of law firm accounting software. The term “law firm accounting” tends to be thrown around pretty liberally, and is often (inaccurately, in our view) used to describe billing and trust features, but lac the core/traditional accounting software fundamentals (like a Chart of Accounts, P&L, Balance Sheet).
In addition, there is general-purpose accounting software (that is: accounting software meant to be used by any type of business, but does not necessarily include the law-firm-specific functions that you may need.)
To provide clarity, in our list of the best law firm accounting software, we’ll define each software product as one of three classes:
Pure Accounting Software (Usually Industry-Neutral)
Practice Management + Accounting Software
Dedicated Legal Accounting Software
As a first step towards finding the right law firm accounting software for your firm, consider whether you want accounting functions built into your law practice management software, or if you prefer to keep accounting and case management functions mostly separate.
Accounting Software vs. Practice Management Software (The differences and the overlap)
Law Practice Management, Billing, and Accounting are three related, but discreet functions. And each can be managed with different software (or, all in one software suite). This is where the fuzzy terminology makes understanding what any given software package does confusing.
Law Practice Management Software
Generally speaking, Practice Management software (AKA Case Management Software) handles a law firm’s:
Clients and Contacts
Law Firm Accounting Software
Full accounting software, typically provides:
Chart of Accounts / General Ledger
Profit & Loss / Balance Sheet
Ledgers for Bank Accounts / Operating Accounts
Both of these lists are abbreviated, but you’ll see that these are fundamentally different, but related, functions.
Here’s the key:
Some Practice Management applications include complete accounting (including everything you see above), and some practice management applications provide time tracking, billing, and expense tracking… but leave the actual accounting to separate software (which it may integrate with).
Law Practice Management applications like Clio, Practice Panther and Time Matters do provide time tracking, billing and even reporting on billings… but they do not provide the “rest of accounting,” and instead integrate with applications like QuickBooks to complete the picture.
This is not to say one method is better than the other; rather it makes defining and understanding the classes of law firm accounting software important.
Next, we recommend that your firm makes an inventory of the specific capabilities and features that you require in your law firm accounting software. For this, you should confer with both your legal team and your accountant.
Features that are often, but not always, available in law firm accounting software include:
Chart of Accounts
Bank / Operating Account Management
Online Banking Integration
Credit Card Management
Loan / Line of Credit Management
Inventory / Asset Management
Billing / Invoicing
Profit & Loss Statement
Bank Account Reconciliation
Consider whether your firm would be best suited for combined practice management / accounting software (or separate software for each), and consider the specific features your law firm needs.
Then, you’re ready to evaluate the top accounting platforms for law firms.
The Top Accounting Software For Law Firms – Our List
In our extensive experience working with hundreds of law firms, here is our list of the best law firm accounting software (in no particular order).
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Company: Intuit Software Class: Pure Accounting
QuickBooks is by far the most well-known accounting software. And for good reason, it’s robust, powerful yet easy to use. QuickBooks is not law-firm-specific, so while a great application, it may lack some of the legal-specific functions your firm requires.
QuickBooks comes in both a Desktop and a Cloud-based (online)version.
QuickBooks Desktop is the classic, full-featured accounting software that runs on Windows PC’s. QuickBooks Online is Intuit’s cloud-based (web-based) edition, which provides much, but not all, of the classic Desktop functionality.
Easy to Use for Non-Accountants
Easy Access for your Outside Accountant
Desktop and Cloud Editions
QuickBooks Desktop: Starts at $199 / Year (3-User Package)
QuickBooks Online (Essentials): Starts at $40 / User / Month
Company: PCLaw|Time Matters Software Class: Accounting + Practice Management
PCLaw is a popular, long-standing practice management, billing and accounting solution for small and midsize law firms. It includes lightweight practice management (clients, cases and calendars), coupled with robust time tracking, billing and accounting (including robust financial reporting). While PCLaw is thought of as law practice management software, accounting is deeply embedded into the product.
You can think of PCLaw as a strong accounting foundation, with lightweight law practice management features built on top. PCLaw is easy to get up-and-running with. And if your law firm needs more comprehensive case and document management, PCLaw integrates with Time Matters.
PCLaw is desktop/server-based, so it can be run on-premise or within a Private Cloud.
Rapid Setup: Easy to Implement Without a Consultant
Company: Software Technology, Inc. Software Class: Accounting + Practice Management
Tabs3 is robust legal billing and accounting software. Tabs3 is part of the Tabs3 / PracticeMaster suite of law firm software. Tabs3 provides essential “back-office” functionality including time, billing and accounting; PracticeMaster provides powerful “front-office” capabilities including client and matter management.
Tabs3 has been around a long time, and has a reputation for being a robust accounting platform, backed by excellent user support.
Tabs3 is desktop/server-based, so it can be run on-premise or within a Private Cloud.
Juris is a robust law firm billing and accounting platform. It’s incredibly robust and flexible, making it a top choice for law firms of 10 time-keepers or more. Juris provides full-fledged accounting as well as nuanced, detailed billing for a variety of billing models.
Juris comes in two packages, Juris Core (it’s more entry-level product) and Juris Suite, it’s more comprehensive edition. Both come with rich accounting and a strong set of financial and billing reports.
Juris is desktop/server-based, so it can be run on-premise or within a Private Cloud.
Rich Accounting Feature Set
Robust Billing System, Flexible Options
Integration with Time Matters for Practice Management
Company: Elite (a Division of Thomson Reuters) Software Class: Practice Management + Accounting
ProLaw is robust practice management, document management and accounting software for law firms. It’s the only legal software platform that includes all three of these main pillars to running a law practice.
ProLaw comes in a number of packages and editions, some of which include ProLaw’s fully-featured accounting software. With ProLaw, your law firm can manage its clients, matters, billing, documents and accounting on a single package.
Juris is desktop/server-based, so it can be run on-premise or within a Private Cloud. ProLaw also offers ProLaw Workspace, an optional web interface to the ProLaw system.
Company: LEAP Software Software Class: Practice Management + Accounting*
LEAP is robust, cloud-based practice management and legal billing software. LEAP is not a full-fledged accounting system (hence the asterisk [*]), but it provides powerful, flexible legal billing, trust accounting and reporting, so it’s worthy of a spot on this list, and certainly worthy of your consideration.
In addition to sophisticated law practice management and document assembly/form assembly features, LEAP provides time tracking, billing, trust accounting and financial reporting capabilities.
LEAP is unique in that it’s a hybrid-cloud solution. You install a lightweight desktop application on your Windows PC, but the core of the software (and data) is stored on LEAP’s cloud platform.
Company: Software Technology, Inc. Software Class: Practice Management + Accounting
CosmoLex was among the first cloud-based law practice management applications that includes complete, end-to-end accounting.
CosmoLex includes client and matter management, time, billing, business accounting and trust/IOLTA accounting, thereby eliminating the need for QuickBooks or other accounting software. With CosmoLex, the financials of every client/matter is front-and-center, and intrinsically linked to each case.
CosmoLex is cloud-based, which means you run the software from a web browser.
Integrated, full-fledged Business and Trust Accounting
Company: Centerbase Software Class: Practice Management + Accounting
Centerbase is a cloud-based Law Practice Management system. It provides time and billing, case and client management, and full-fledged accounting. Centerbase is arguably one of the most customizable LPM applications, though that customization may require an outside consultant.
Centerbase describes its platform as “Mission Control for your Law Firm,” bringing together case/matter management, billing and complete accounting in a single, customizable platform.
Company: Zola Media Software Class: Practice Management + Accounting
Zola Suite is a cloud-based legal practice management and accounting application. While it has many of the standard fare for legal case management, it also boasts a built-in email client for better managing the relationship between matters and communication, and a slick, minimalist design.
While Zola Suite is a law practice management application first and foremost, it does include full-fledged accounting, along with time tracking and billing. ZolaSuite is cloud-based, which means you use the software within a web browser.
TrustBooks is unique in that it’s stand-alone software for Trust Accounting. Many law firms use QuickBooks for their core accounting, but acknowledge that QuickBooks does not follow the rigid Trust Accounting rules. (Some law firms try anyway, or worse yet, use an Excel spreadsheet to manage trust accounts).
TrustBooks provides comprehensive Trust/IOLTA accounting with three-way reconciliation, trust audit reports and more. TrustBooks is cloud-based which means you run it from a web browser.
In this article, we’ve covered the best law firm accounting software packages. In addition to accounting, your law firm likely needs other software. We encourage you to learn more about other useful software for law firms.
Document Management Software
Document Management Software keeps your documents (and email) organized, searchable and accessible from anywhere. Document Management software typically provides:
Client/Matter-Centric Organization for Documents and Email
About the Author: Dennis Dimka Dennis Dimka is the CEO and founder of Uptime Legal Systems, North America's leading provider of technology, cloud and marketing services to law firms. Under Dennis’ leadership, Uptime Legal has grown organically and through acquisitions to become the nationally-recognized legal technology company it is today. Uptime Legal continues to innovate and disrupt the legal technology space, and has been named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private for the past six consecutive years. Dennis was also an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist.
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