In the past decade, law firm finances have taken on new meanings and scales. Globalization has contributed to the growth of international law firms, mergers have increased the number of very large law firms, and computer technology has changed the way even the smallest law offices can do business. Of course, law firms have long had in-house accounting staffs, but as a result of these recent changes in the legal environment, the accounting departments in major law firms have undergone major, necessary evolutions.
Glenn Graner, chief financial officer at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, LLP, has witnessed this evolution. When he began at the law firm as controller about two decades ago, he worked with a staff of four accounting clerks. Now he oversees a controller, a budget director, a treasury manager, a payroll manager, and a network of accounting managers and clerks in ten offices. In all, an accounting department of more than 50 staff members manages matters such as the firm's financial statements and budget. Payroll and personnel staff members administer functions such as timesheets, benefits, and the integration of payroll with benefits.
Mr. Graner noted that in the last 10 to 12 years, the accounting department has become "more professional
," with several CPAs and MBAs on staff. This trend reflects the fact that a large law firm must now operate "more like a business."
Hails Foster, director of finance at Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice, PLLC, commented that the large law firm trend toward hiring more professionals in their financial departments parallels the hiring of professionals in other firm departments: marketing, technology, and human resources. Law firms have found that once they reach the size of a couple hundred attorneys—often spread throughout several offices—they cannot operate without professional staff to handle the day-to-day administration of the firm. Of course, attorneys still oversee the business side of the firm, but surrounding themselves with a professional staff leaves the attorneys more time to focus on practicing law and servicing clients.
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