Future legal professionals are heading back-to-school and selecting courses has begun. Here's why taking that scary legal accounting course could be the best decision of the semester.
When most students read that legal accounting is a course within their chosen program, their shoulders slump while saying, ‘Oh, great, I am horrible with math” or ‘I am going to fail it,’ wanting to drop the course immediately. What surprises students is that dropping legal accounting is not the answer to their silent prayers of the course vanishing. Aside from being a required course for most legal programs, legal accounting provides a skillset that transcends beyond the classroom into one’s daily lives, both personally and professionally.
Students that enrol in a legal accounting courses are students that want to enter the legal field as a career; as legal assistants, law clerks, or as paralegals. In the post-secondary educational sector throughout Canada, the age range of students is vast, anywhere from under 20 to over 40 years of age, providing extensive experience, knowledge, and skillset. The table below shows the diverse age range of students enrolled in post-secondary educational institutions. Many of these students do not have any exposure to business accounting let alone legal accounting. With the only knowledge being from their own personal finances and even then, it is an uneven and basic understanding.
Legal accounting affects all aspects of a firm, allowing a practitioner(s) to manage its business and clients matters. It is important work, but doesn't have to be scary. I have found through teaching legal accounting that once individuals overcome the fear of the subject and open themselves up to try, they quickly realize that the information being taught is done with examples and terminology that is a part of everyday life. Often times, the subject matter is made more relatable by utilizing examples of real, commonly-known legal issues. Using scenarios that are typical within a firm over various areas of practice will walk the student through procedures that are typical when handling a client’s matter. These help connect important topics like how legal accounting relates to clients’ cases, and the inner-workings of a law firm’s financial health. Students who stick with these courses quickly gain confidence in the fact that they can learn and implement the practices of legal accounting. This will give students a well-rounded exposure will benefit them when they obtain a job in a firm.
Educating future legal professionals entering the field on legal accounting - the seriousness and importance of it - is an asset to legal firms.
When students are equipped with knowledge on these matters, lawyers and paralegals can assign tasks to legal support staff the second they start working, because they can be confident that they understand the importance of ensuring accuracy with business and client matters. Upon completing a legal accounting course at this level of education, students should be able to demonstrate the ability to not only understand basic accounting terminology but use general accounting principles. Learning the accounting equation, the proper usage of debits and credits, and the role of the relevant Law Society for the province they reside in are critical parts of the course. Along with the various reports, statements, and journals that form a daily part of a practice. Law firms should see a benefit in hiring candidates with this knowledge, as it cuts down on training time and cost. Future legal professionals who have legal accounting experience also become stronger candidates when it is time to start their job hunts - especially if that includes hands-on education.
Within the legal account course, it is beneficial to have legal accounting software that can complement the lectures. Hands-on exposure through an experimental set of books gives students a chance to further conceptualize the topics they've learned. As a student, take every opportunity to work with a legal account software: you will get practical experience doing tasks that are likely to occur in the industry. It enables you to have a safe place to get knowledgeable and comfortable with the workings of the software, and your future employers will be thankful you've had a chance to implement what you have learned throughout the course, and make mistakes that will not affect any real-life firm or clients’ legal matters.
Some people may wonder what the benefit of teaching legal accounting to students is. It is quite simple; lawyers and paralegal do not want to do it; they want to practice law.
As a result, it is crucial to a firm to have legal support staff that have a basic knowledge and educational training when it comes to finances and legal software used. Legal representatives do not want to spend time that is non-billable working on the firm’s bookkeeping. Having a skilled bookkeeper and legal support staff provides the firm with the confidence in knowing that the financial matters are being managed efficiently, lawfully, and ethically as they must answer to the Law Society.
Legal accounting in post-secondary education is crucial to the development of individuals that want to work in the legal field. Having people that are knowledgeable with the importance of the course content and the role the Law Society, Government, and other agencies that legal firms must adhere to are vital to the success of a firm. Legal accounting can be challenging, but those who stick with it and take every opportunity to deepen their knowledge will finish their education with theoretical content learned and hands-on exposure to legal accounting software; which will put them in the forefront of being an asset to a firm.
Angelina R. Asturi is a professor in the Paralegal and Law Clerk programs at Georgian College. In her role as Field Placement Coordinator for the program, she has assisted hundreds of students in launching their careers. She is a former Senior Law Clerk, with over 30 years of experience in the legal field. Angelina is currently completing a master’s degree in Business Innovation Leadership at the University of Fredericton, as well as completing the requirements to become an accredited Family Law Mediator in the Province of Ontario. As a contributor to Soluno's blog, Angelina covers topics on legal education, accounting technology, and the Canadian legal industry.
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