Law Office Computing
Bookkeeping for the Accounting Challenged Lawyer
One of the most frequent questions I get "What accounting software should I use?" I have never had a very good answer for that because my accounting skills are less than minimal. Recently, however, the question has come up more frequently and often in the context of the AY2K@ millennium bug. A good number of the computer-based accounting programs that have been used in small to medium-sized firms over the past years are apparently infected with the millennium bug and thus set to wreck accounting havoc in the law office environment. What is really outrageous is that a number of the companies that provide accounting software have taken the position that the Y2K bug is not their problem but yours. There are more than a few law suits already in the pipeline and a whole lot more to come after the inevitable bookkeeping crashes of the Year 2000. One of the first companies to get sued was Intuit, the developer of the enormously popular Quicken line of accounting products. Intuit has made its business by taking the accounting out of small business management and substituting instead a simple, computerized, record-keeping model that only requires the entry of information through a checkbook motif. Intuit=s response to the Y2K problem has been exemplary. They have posted fixes for most of their older programs already and have indicated that the others would be fixed during the coming year. But what they recommend as a true solution is better than some retroactive fix to a software program that is less than a complete small business financial manager. That recommendation, and mine, is that you purchase and install QuickBooks Pro 99, which was introduced in January.
I have used QuickBooks Pro for years and it has allowed me to at least provide my accountant with reasonably accurate information regarding my financial affairs. But the older versions were not always easy to use. The procedures necessary to print and format checks, for example, were sometimes maddeningly obscure. Changing information in regard to clients and suppliers was not always easy to do, and the process of list management which is central to the operation of the program was not always clear and user friendly. QuickBooks Pro 99 solves all of those problems and introduces some exciting new advantages. The setup of the program for use in a law office is extremely flexible and automated, utilizing the Wizard approach popularized by Microsoft. It took me about 20 minutes to set up a law office accounting program using the Wizard.
QuickBooks Pro 99 now has an easy-to-use, built-in time tracking mechanism that is functional and easy to use. It does not do what many of the high-end time and billing programs do, but it does run over a network and it does provide the basic information necessary to create a bill for legal services. Once you see the QuickBooks Pro 99 timer you may decide that is all you need to maintain electronic time records because the program allows you to create custom billing templates with ease. QuickBooks Pro 99 integrates completely with Microsoft Word 97 and will launch it automatically, formatting documents with basic customer information and financial data. The integration of Word into the program also allows for the creation of a library of 25 pre-written and pre-formatted business letters that can be completely customized for your needs.
The first widely successful business software program at the dawn of the personal computing era was a product called VisiCalc, a spreadsheet program. Since that day, spreadsheets have remained one of the most exciting and powerful business management tools. The Microsoft Excel 97 spreadsheet is widely regarded as one of the best, if not >the= best, of the current spreadsheet products. QuickBooks Pro 99 provides complete integration with Microsoft Excel, allowing the export of a QuickBooks Pro 99 report to an Excel spreadsheet with all of the formulas and formatting remaining intact. What shows up on your screen looks like, and is, a normal spreadsheet and is subject to all of the various manipulations, what-if scenarios, graph creation, and additional reports that are built into the Microsoft Excel program. Anybody who uses spreadsheets to work with financial data will be amazed at the ease with which the QuickBooks software is able to produce a spreadsheet version of information.
QuickBooks Pro 99 has a number of other very attractive modules that now make it possible to automate cash flow reports, print deposit slips, and track cash back on deposits, keep track and pay owners and contractors for time spent on projects and jobs, and track IRS form 1099 information for independent contractors. QuickBooks Pro 99 is designed to run on a network and allow multiple users to access the program from multiple computers.
QuickBooks Pro 99 does a lot of other things as well but for the small firm that uses subcontract employees for much of their work and has only a few regular employees ( i.e., many law firms), QuickBooks offers its online payroll tax service which fully integrates with QuickBooks Pro and allows the office manager to enter data once and send it with the click of a button to the QuickBooks online payroll tax service where the information is processed. The tax service then files the taxes and makes a direct deposit of the employee=s paycheck. The cost of the payroll tax service is $20 per month plus one dollar per employee per transmission, and the direct deposit service is $1.50 per employee per transaction. The direct deposit service can also be used for expense reimbursement, bonus checks, or any other kind of payment that needs to be made to employees, all for the cost of $1.50 per item. The payroll data need be transmitted over the Internet to Intuit only two days before the paycheck due date. I don=t know how you go about calculating the actual cost of managing payroll in the small office. I do know that it is a hassle and a problem that most of us would like to avoid. It may be that the online payroll service initiated with the 1999 version of QuickBooks Pro turns out to be one of the most beneficial contributions made to the operation of your business. In the coming months and years Intuit wants to be the provider of a complete small business management solution and this is the first step. They now provide a number of small business services including supplies, professional advice, and tax software that integrate into the QuickBooks program. All in all, it is a very impressive suite of business services for a relatively low price. QuickBooks Pro 99 sells at retail for under $150 after a mail-in rebate. The QuickBooks Pro 99 five-user package lists for $599 but is subject to substantial rebates and other discounts. The QuickBooks software has long been the most popular general purpose accounting software for small business. With the introduction of the enhancements described above and an increased capability to set up the software for use in the law office, QuickBooks Pro 99 gets my hardy recommendation. It is extremely easy to use and provides very thorough accounting information. Its integration with the Excel spreadsheet software is, to my mind, a home run. You need look no further. There are many sources of information and help on the Web. At tax time you may want to consider the free web site that is found at http://www.quickbooks.com/yearend /index.html or a private group site listing of small business accountants at http://www.helptalk.com/qbpro/index.html.