Greater Accuracy, Quicker Billing: How Clio Supports This English Legal Aid Firm
Position: Founder and director
Firm Name: Immigration Advice Centre
Practice area: Immigration, Legal Aid
Employees: Four full-time
Location: Middlesbrough, England, UK
When it comes to the work Sarah Rogers does for her legal clients, there isn’t any room for error. That’s partly because her firm, the Immigration Advice Centre, routinely deals with complex asylum and immigration cases, where accuracy and attention to detail are essential from start to finish.
Increasingly, however, there’s another reason why the ability to accurately record activities, billing, and time on clients’ cases is so important: Sarah is one of a rapidly dwindling number of providers offering legal aid services. With exacting requirements for invoicing and thresholds on what can be claimed for, accuracy is key to the success of running a legal aid law firm in England and Wales. This is particularly important given that any mistake the legal firm makes could be costly and lead to sanctions and penalties. That’s where Clio’s legal aid matter and billing solution, available for legal aid firms in England and Wales, comes in. It makes complying with legal aid regulations and finding the correct billing aid rates quicker and simpler.
“In the past, billing could take me days,” Sarah says. “But with Clio, legal aid billing is just so much easier. The dashboard allows me to see everything at a glance and to see that everything is correct.”
“Additionally, the client portal, including the e-signing for documents and being able to share things with the client, has been fantastic.”
Clio’s legal aid feature, which was developed together with solicitors, is designed to make the process of managing and invoicing for a civil or criminal legal aid matter quicker, easier, and more efficient. As such, it includes threshold notifications, robust matter management, and a simple system to assign legal aid rates that saves you the work of hunting down the correct codes in PDFs with hundreds of rows.
Clio as an affordable legal aid software solution
Given Sarah’s two decades of experience with legal aid work, when it came time to open her own immigration law firm, she knew she had to be careful to find a solution that ensured precision in invoicing while also balancing cost.
Before adopting Clio’s legal aid feature, Sarah and her small team of four full-time staff were using solutions that they were just getting by with, leading to overlapping work, wasted time, and ultimately frustration.
“When I first started, I just didn’t have the resources to invest in an expensive database, but I needed one because legal aid requires one,” she explains. “I got by with an old one that we managed to salvage. It was very old fashioned but it worked at the time and it cost nothing.”
As the firm got busier, however, and took on more clients, Sarah realised that they needed a practice management software that was more substantial.
Initially, they tried another legal aid case management software provider. “It was great to start off with because we got introductory prices,” Sarah says. “Then the prices just kept increasing.”
Faced with price hikes that would cost them £150 to £200 per user per month, and with cost a key consideration for any legal aid provider, Sarah searched to see what was out there. That led her to Clio, and with it a solution that makes legal aid matters and billing more affordable and drastically quicker while still being precise. It’s changed the way this busy law firm does legal aid—while saving them money, too.
It’s an easy and affordable legal aid billing solution
“Clio is just a lot more user-friendly than other legal aid software solutions we’ve used. It’s quicker and easier. Getting that invoice prepared and ready for the CWA Portal is so much faster with Clio. It also costs much less than our previous provider, with no hidden add-ons.”
“The fact that Clio is online, rather than it being a programme downloaded to our PCs, makes it so much easier to use. If somebody gives me a query and I’m on my phone, I can check it and access it from everywhere. It also means I can access it from any computer rather than being tied to one particular computer.”
It makes document sharing easier
“It’s so much easier for us to share documentation. Take, for example, a client who was going to an appointment next week for a nationality application. I’ve uploaded all her files to the Home Office website and, with Clio, I could share the bulk file with her. Clio allows us to send clients documents to sign, and to sign authorisations without anyone having to come into the office to share documents with us. We no longer have to send clients millions of emails. Clio has allowed us to cut down on that and it’s been fantastic.”
It’s easier to connect with clients
“While I couldn’t give up face-to-face meetings completely, I love sitting at my desk and being able to communicate with my clients without having to worry about them coming into the office without appointments. It’s also great not to have to run up and down the stairs to go and see clients who have called in with questions or queries. We can communicate through Clio’s client portal. Using it, together with our website, as a portal for clients, we can share things, and we can book appointments with them remotely.”
It cuts costs and is environmentally friendly
“Clio has allowed us to do a lot more online. We’d always thought we wanted to go paperless, and Clio’s made that a lot easier. Between not having to send anything by individual email and not having to print things, our copying costs have gone down massively.”
Quicker legal aid billing
Like a lot of legal aid lawyers, Sarah is busy, which means she does not have time to spend figuring out complex systems and software.
More efficient processes can have a huge impact on the speed of billing. Clio’s user-friendly system, which includes easy access to legal aid billing codes, ensures that legal aid law firms, whether civil, criminal, or controlled legal aid providers, can cut end-of-month billing from days to a matter of hours.
“Clio makes billing a whole lot quicker. With my previous practice management software, for every single record, I had to go into three different places on every record. It was slow—it wasn’t as responsive as Clio—so for every matter you had three or four clicks to get to the endpoint of what you were looking for. That sounds ridiculous, but when you’ve got to bill a lot of files, having to make three or four clicks to find the information that you need, it’s a slow process.”
More accurate legal aid reporting—from matter to invoice
Clio’s series of checks and upfront matter recording requirements also makes legal aid matter management more rapid. That starts right from the client intake and onboarding stage.
“When you start a matter on Clio, everything you need for that client is in the same place in the matter (with the exception of client contact),” Sarah explains. “It requires you to log essential information in at the start of your record, so it’s already there when you come into billing.”
That’s a big difference compared to the practice management software Sarah was using previously. While Clio is designed to be user-friendly and to ensure that all details are recorded from the start of the matter, the other practice management system “hid that required information off in separate boxes,” Sarah says.
“As a consequence, staff never used to fill it out. At the end of the month, when I was coming to billing, that meant I had a lot to double check and fill in. We don’t have those hurdles with Clio.”
It’s much simpler to add that information to Clio. You get a pop-up box to remind you to enter it, and you can see when the necessary information is already on the record. You also can’t move the record forward unless you add that required information at the start.
These small requirements mean that at billing time, Sarah no longer has to take additional time to back-fill required details that need to be present before she can invoice the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). Everything is upload-ready for the CWA portal when she completes each matter. That’s a huge timesaver for her.
One other area of Clio’s legal aid feature that has been vital to Sarah’s firm: legal aid threshold notifications. Clio gives the user a warning when they have reached 90% of their legal aid claim threshold, something which can be the difference between them earning money and losing it.
“The thresholds are so important because there’s a financial impact to crossing them, but they can be very easy to miss. If nobody spots the fact that a matter is hitting the legal aid threshold, we could have then spent money that we can’t claim retrospectively. It will come out of my pocket.”
The peace of mind of meeting legal aid requirements
Besides the personal cost of errors, there’s another reason why legal aid lawyers have to be so precise when it comes to legal aid thresholds and billing.
Sarah has been working in the area of immigration and asylum law for two decades and has seen first-hand how costly legal aid errors can be. Having originally trained as a barrister in 1998, she went to work with a national charity that did immigration work.
Although she started with the immigration charity to get experience, intending to do pupillage and go on to practise as a barrister, she enjoyed her role so much that she ended up staying for 10 years, receiving promotions along the way.
Her move to open her own firm was prompted when the immigration charity she worked for was forced into administration following issues around legal aid billing errors.
It’s something Sarah is conscious that her firm cannot repeat.
“When it comes to managing and claiming for legal aid cases, I know how careful we have to be. I’ve seen how errors can impact an organisation.
“We constantly face risk. Even if we picked up the mistake before the Legal Aid Agency does, we can be penalised for the fact that we didn’t get it right the first time.
“The same with disbursements: they’ve got to be accurately recorded on the file. Because if they’re not, if we overclaim—if we underclaim!—it can be a warning to us. Even though we’ve lost money and they haven’t, we can still get penalised for that. It’s a never-ending challenge.”
It’s easy to see, in that context, why a 2021 Law Society of England and Wales report shows that, across England and Wales, 63% of the population do not have access to an immigration and asylum legal aid provider.
Clio’s legal aid feature is designed to make life, and work, easier for legal aid lawyers and other legal professionals. It means that legal aid providers, like Sarah and the Immigration Advice Centre, can continue to offer legal work that is literally changing the lives of those who could otherwise not afford it. Though it can be difficult work, the rewards for legal aid work extend far beyond the financial. Sarah and her firm’s staff get to be part of a key part of the journey of asylum seekers, refugees, and other vulnerable people, seeing them through a process that can take years.
“We don’t necessarily do it for the recognition,” she says. “We just do it because it’s our job. We’re helping people to get to the point of where they want to be and doing what we can to get them there.
“We’re only lawyers at the end of the day! It’s just that we’re in an area of law which is extremely compassionate and compelling.”
While Sarah’s modesty is admirable, what is clear to anyone who sees how she works is that they’re far from “only lawyers.” She and other lawyers performing legal aid work are performing a service that is essential for the greater good. That’s why Clio is proud to be able to support the work of legal aid providers, like Sarah, through the release of our legal aid feature. To read more about our feature and about the need for greater legal aid support, read our press release on why Clio is joining the call to protect legal aid.