Automating Legal Payments Workflows Using Zapier

One of the most important things about law practice is getting paid. With the advent of electronic payments technology, the process of getting paid can be easier than ever. Some of you may be saying "Advent?!?!? PayPal is more than 20 years old!" But research suggests that fewer than 25% of lawyers actually use some kind of  electronic payments technology. The vast majority of lawyers are still getting paid by some combination of cash, checks, and wires. But I digress.

The stakes are high for law firm leaders to use electronic payments effectively. Collections - or, more accurately, the failure to collect - can have a huge impact on a law firm.  First, chasing clients down to get them to pay is costly in the form of wasted time. Second, poor collections can threaten a firm's livelihood. Even with a great deal of outstanding paid work completed, if a firm can't collect on that completed work the firm could face catastrophic cash problems. Finally, the 2019 Clio Trends Report states that electronic payments get paid fast: 57% of electronic payments get paid within the same day they are billed, and 85% get paid within a week.

Yet, without systems and processes in place firms will fail to fully realize the benefits of electronic payments and find themselves, as just one example, chasing clients for electronic payments in much the same way they chased them for physical payment.

What to do?

Improve Law Firm Processes

One answer is to build law firm processes that help increase a firm's collection rate.  Whether that's using your trust account more effectively, the 2017 Clio Trends Report  stated that firms that use their trust account realize and collect more of the work they do,  storing a client payment method, we've seen firms that keep a client "card on file" and bill them automatically for outstanding fees promptly at the beginning of the month run with practically no outstanding accounts receivable, or putting other firm processes in place to ensure prompt payment,  firm processes can improve firm collections.

Leverage Technology

Another option - and the basis of this discussion - is to use technology to facilitate or ease the burden of automating the payments experience.  Tech processes can reduce the amount of manual effort required to request, receive and even manage money that the firm receives.

The easiest way to use technology to make payments easier is through direct integrations. This is where two or more companies connect their products directly such that the two products work in an integrated fashion. We at Gravity Legal have integrations with a number of companies including, most prominently, LeanLaw.

Enter Zapier

The challenge is that it's fairly expensive for every company to build a direct integration from their product to every other company's product. This is where Zapier comes in. A company can build an integration for their product with Zapier and then be connected to any other platform that has also built an integration to Zapier. And Zapier doesn't require a knowledge of coding for Zapier users to connect apps that work with Zapier.

Think of these Zapier-based integrated processes as customized workflows. Zapier refers to them as "Zaps." You can use these Zaps to automate common tasks - everything from adding email to a marketing list, to sending an SMS alert in the event of a certain outcome, to copying and/or saving certain documents or email in the cloud.

Each Zap requires a trigger and an action. Think of these as "if-then" statements with which you may be familiar either from logic or, if you do have a technical background, coding or mathematics.

  1. Triggers: The triggers are the "if" part. This is where you define the event that begins the Zap. It could be receiving a new lead from a Google Ad or a customer filling out a form on your website.
  2. Action: Actions are the "then" part. This is what happens when the "if" statement is triggered. This could be some kind of notification about the lead that's submitted or some other action.

There are actually two types of actions: "Create" actions and "Search" actions.

  • Create actions add new data to the app in which the action is taking place.
  • Search actions find existing data in the app and can fill in gaps in data in the new app as well.

Zapier integrates with over 2000 different applications across all industries and apps.

Zapier for Legal Payments

Lawyers get tremendous value tying together non-legal specific apps with Zapier. However, many want to use Zapier to connect legal-specific and non-legal-specific apps (such as Google Sheets and Lawyaw) or two (or more) legal-specific apps together (such as Lawcus and, say, Gravity Legal) to extend the functionality of these powerful tools. For legal specifically, we at Gravity Legal have been building a database of legal-specific Zapier integrations for lawyers and firms to better understand which legal tools connect to Zapier and how they can be connected to each other to build powerful workflows. More on the database later.

5 Examples

Here are five ways lawyers can streamline their payments experience using Zapier.

  1. Automate Payment for Initial Consultations: The debate among lawyers about payment for initial consultations is alive and well. But there’s no debate about making sure you do get paid if you decide to charge for them. Popular scheduling platforms Calendly and Acuity both integrate with Zapier as do a number of payments platforms, including Gravity Legal. Here’s a video of how to tie Acuity and Gravity Legal together via Zapier. Full disclosure, at least Calendly and Acuity (maybe others too) have direct integrations with a fair number of payment providers as well.

    If going legal-to-legal is your jam - ensuring that you get the full power and trust account protection of Gravity Legal - then you can also connect Gravity Legal with the virtual reception and chat power of Smith.ai via our
    recently announced Zapier integration.

  2. Integrate Payments into your Intake/Onboarding Process
    At least two electronic signature providers - PandaDoc and HelloSign - allow you to use sending an agreement, executing an agreement, or other similar actions as a Zapier trigger to send a payment request. That's pretty cool but the process could also go the other way, with payment triggering the sending of an engagement agreement.

    Intake is one of the places that Zapier excels. A lot of the legal uses for Zapier of which I’m aware streamline the process of collecting information from a lead and/or are deeply involved in the process of converting that lead into a client and onboarding them. Look no further than Block and Leviton (whom we discussed in a recent
    blog post and article for the ABA) who is using Zapier as a part of their process to manage the large volume of inbound leads which they receive as a part of their securities class action cases. 

  3. Manage Your Trust Account Payments
    We already mentioned the economic benefits of using a trust account - greater realizations and collections - but one of the downsides is all of the accounting and financial management that comes with trust accounting. Firms can use Zapier to automatically export trust account transactions from their payment provider into a preformatted Excel or a Google Sheet in order to facilitate reconciliation.  

  4. Cutting Outbound Checks
    Payments “in” are a big reason for automation but many workers’ compensation and even personal injury firms deal with a fair volume of payments “out.” One enterprising attorney, whose process I discovered in the Maximum Lawyer Facebook group, has built a Zapier process that automates a big portion of the firm’s check processing requests. The Zapier enabled process starts with an email parser that identifies client information from a template email the following processes are triggered: (1) check drafted in Quickbooks online (including looking up the payee, applying balance to correct client or creating a new one, and adding a memo line and ledger entry) (2) creating a task in the practice management system for the bookkeeper to print and send the check, (3) creates and emails a check transmittal letter with all check information in PDF form to the staff person who needs the check; (4) and sends a Slack notification to client owners at the firm to alert them to the request.

  5. Send payment requests automatically
    If you are considering building your own practice management system like some of the firms we discussed in our aforementioned blog post or covered in our recent podcast on the topic, you can also use Zapier to trigger sending a payment request to a client once certain milestones or case metrics are satisfied. By integrating the payment experience directly into the firm’s workflow in this way, you can eliminate extra steps to create and send the payment request and leverage the collections benefits of electronic payments.

  6. BONUS! Send yourself a text or Slack message when you get paid
    At least two electronic signature providers - PandaDoc and HelloSign - allow you to use sending an agreement, executing an agreement, or other similar actions as a Zapier trigger to send a payment request. The process could also go the other way, with payment triggering an engagement agreement. Intake is one of the places that Zapier excels. A lot of the legal uses for Zapier of which I’m aware streamline the process of collecting information from a lead and/or are deeply involved in the process of converting that lead into a client and onboarding them. Look no further than Block and Leviton (whom we discussed in a recent blog post and article for the ABA) who is using Zapier as a part of their process to manage the large volume of inbound leads which they receive as a part of their securities class action cases.  

Getting paid feels good! You can create a Zapier trigger to notify you via text message every time you get paid. Sure, this Zap may not change your life. But you’ll get a little shot of positivity every time it triggers. And that’s not too bad. Hey, it’s the little things!

These are only a few examples. It seems every time we dig deeper we find another legal technology company that has integrated with Zapier or another awesome Zap that a law firm has built. You can find the Gravity Legal database of legal Zapier integrations here. If you're a  lawyer or firm with an awesome legal Zap, we'd love to hear about that too. Tell us here

Keeping the money coming into and flowing through your firm is central to the survival of your firm. Automating the process of getting paid with law firm processes, integrations, and, yes, Zapier - thereby freeing up time for you to focus on serving clients - means you’ll get paid faster, easier, and with less effort.

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