Law firms or legal providers that offer legal services are regulated by regulators such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to maintain the public trust and the ethical delivery of legal services. Solicitors often receive and hold their client’s money as part of a legal service e.g. buying a house. There are prescriptive governance rules to ensure the protection of these client monies whilst being held by a solicitor. When receiving client funds the funds must be held in a ‘client’ account. The SRA Accounts Rules set out the detailed treatment and rules that must be followed in dealing with client monies.
In recent years we have seen legal finance professionals establish a wider recognition within their specialist area with both regulators and firms as their roles have evolved and become more varied. Senior managers within law firms have become increasingly aware of the valuable contributions and ethical standards provided by such employees, who are often seen as the ‘gatekeepers’ for the protection of client money. Such teams must consist of well trained and knowledgeable staff not only providing checks on payments in and out of the client account, but also ensuring compliance with other regulations such as anti-money laundering, VAT, income tax and corporation tax to name just a few. The role of the legal finance profession can be one that’s wide, varied and dare I say it, enjoyed.
What is a Legal Finance Professional?
The title ‘Legal Finance Professional’ covers a wide range of roles within a law firm from someone that’s responsible for issuing bills to clients, collecting/chasing debts as a credit controller, preparing the firm’s financial statements, to dealing with compliance. The list is endless, but the most common title given to this role is that of a Legal Cashier.
A Legal Cashier is a specialist type of bookkeeper who works in law firms and is responsible for the accounting and finance functions of a solicitor's practice, such as recording day-to-day financial transactions and ensuring compliance with the SRA Accounts Rules 2019. The term ‘Legal Cashier’ is in common use within the legal profession in England and Wales. Nearly all firms that transact client money will have a legal cashier, or in larger firms, a team of cashiers with the role being segregated into areas such as credit control, billing, compliance, management accountants and cashiering. Regardless of the size of the firm, the title or the role, the legal finance professional is a pivotal role in a law firm. The role mitigates risk. Less risk equals less qualified accountants’ reports. Less qualified reports equal less regulator investigations. Having a ‘gatekeeper’ in post, will lead to cheaper professional indemnity insurance premiums.
Do qualifications still highlight the best candidate or is experience the preference from employers? What about having both?
Qualifications are hugely important because they make certain skills visible to recruitment agencies and employers. Recruitment agencies often write job advertisements that specify that a certain qualification is required for the role as well as experience. Experience may teach you that ‘doing it that way does not work’, but education gives you the theoretical knowledge and analytical skill to show why it does not work. That said, practical experience gives you a true understanding of a firm’s mechanics. It is uncapped in a workplace with hand-on experience happening daily. An employer looks favourably on a candidate with both theoretical knowledge and practical understanding.
ILFM qualifications are all tailored to a law firm environment, extremely relevant, industry recognised and respected and give you the most up-to-date knowledge and skills required to become a legal finance professional – aka, the ‘gatekeeper’. You will learn the techniques in preparing, presenting financial management information in a law firm as well as the basic day-to-day operations in a compliant legal finance department. They also give you a much deeper and more rounded approach than the purely technical. Throughout all of the courses are the ethics and values that students need to make a difference and become an invaluable asset to an employer. In a time of uncertainty, being qualified is what makes you stand out from the crowd.
All of the ILFM courses are correspondence courses, enabling those that don’t have the time to attend college or training courses, a flexible option to fit around working and personal life commitments. You can study when you want and at your own leisure.
It's not just about obtaining professional qualifications. It’s also about refining and growing existing skills, as well as gaining knowledge of new areas and adding to your skillset are crucial parts of any role and this is why continued professional development (CPD) is also hugely important. So, you’ve gained your qualification. You have the experience under your belt. The first part of your mission is complete – or is it? Continuing professional development is a must because it ensures you continue to be competent and up to date in your role by enhancing your skills and knowledge. It safeguards the client’s you act for, the employer, the professional and the professional’s career and should be an ongoing process throughout your career. It’s important that you don’t neglect the importance of continued professional training and the upskilling of you and every team member, no matter their seniority. At the ILFM, we’re massively proud of the time resources and adaptability we’ve invested in our training and professional development programme and by undertaking the ILFM’s training or qualifications, you will open up new opportunities on your career path and you will stand out from the crowd.