Let’s face it, we pretty much all procrastinate when it comes to submitting expenses. For most people in the workforce, the biggest pitfall of late expense submission is that you don’t get paid on time, so you may have to cover a credit card bill out of pocket. A bit of a pain, but rarely more than that. However, the impact of this for law firms can be much more far reaching. A tardy submission often results in a write-off absorbed by the firm, since the client will not pay beyond a certain cut-off date. As profit margins at law firms tend to be narrow, losing profits due to poor or delayed expense reporting can be critical.
The obvious solution to eliminate this issue is to enable lawyers to submit expenses in a timely way. However, given lawyers’ time constraints and focus on billable hours, getting expenses submitted on time is often a challenge. With many lawyers spending much of their time away from their home office, they incur a significant amount of business expenses (and therefore lots of receipts), and so the equation here is lots of receipts + limited time to focus on admin = expense reports always fall to the bottom of the to-do list.
This is where a highly mobile expense management solution, which is fast and simple to use, can be a major asset. A key ingredient is to minimize the amount of effort required by the end-user to get their receipts into the expense management system. For example, the ability to simply snap and send an image of a receipt and email it into the system – where a delegate can then complete and submit the expense report, can play a significant role in enabling expenses to be submitted on time. In fact, for many lawyers, capturing and emailing the receipt image from their smartphone is their only interaction with the expense system.
Of course, not everyone has the benefit of an administrator who can submit their expenses. Therefore, the entire system needs to be intuitive and must also be easy to use from any device, to avoid slowing down the process. Since more and more lawyers use a phone or tablet as frequently (if not more) as a PC to conduct their work, the ability to easily create and submit reports on these devices is hugely important. For a managing partner, it’s also essential to be able to quickly approve expenses via their phone or email – again, to ensure that billable expenses are move quickly and accurately through the system.
An equally important role for expense management systems is enforcing policies and compliance. As law firms face the burden of fiduciary duty to their clients, an added level of compliance and oversight of billable expenses is critical. Different clients have different expense thresholds and spend guidelines which their counsel must adhere to, so expense automation solutions need to assure compliance with these policies on a company-by-company basis. In fact, for many law firms the exception IS the rule. As a result, business and routing compliance cannot be easily predetermined by ordinary workflow processes - the system’s rules engine needs to goes beyond solving a workflow problem and instead solve a rules problem, dynamically determining in real time where an expense must go based on any variable related to the transaction. The ability to set up business rules which automate expense policy compliance for each client can save many hours of administrative time, minimize the risk for errors, and help ensure prompt billing of client expenses.
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