Firms get creative as holiday fever sparks billing chaos

Easter and royal wedding force firms to rethink accounting deadlines

Law firms are taking decisive action ahead of the fast-approaching bank ­holiday bonanza as they ­prepare for April’s year-end billing frenzy.

The long Easter weekend, May Day bank holiday and extra day off for the royal wedding have reduced the amount of time available to bill clients at the most vital time of the year.

DLA Piper is leaving its internal accounting system open until 5 May. The move will allow partners to log work they have billed during 2010-11 after the financial year ends on 30 April.

Europe managing ­director Andrew Darwin said: “Normally we close the system at the end of each month, but this is a special year-end, and taking into account the volume of stuff to process it makes sense.

“What we’re also saying is to not leave everything until 26 April when everyone will be out celebrating the ­wedding.”

Darwin stressed that the move was purely administrative and would not allow partners to move work that closes in the first few days of the next financial year on to this year’s figures.

Eversheds and Wragge & Co brought their billing deadlines forward to March in order to counter administrative congestion at the end of April.

Wragges senior partner Quentin Poole said: “We encouraged partners to go for a dummy year-end at the end of March, so we had a very strong March and had less work going forward.

“We’re not one of the worst firms for billing in April. You hear about firms that do almost a third of their billing in April, whereas we do a month and a bit.”

Eversheds is also understood to have asked partners to treat March as a ’dummy’ April, posting notices to that effect around the office.

Managing partner Lee Ranson said: “We’ve been aware of the problem in the sense that we all work to the end of April as the year-end and the last two weeks can be critical. We looked at this at Christmas and thought we’d get partners to treat March as April.”

Burges Salmon has imposed an early cut-off date for billing so that its accounts team has enough time to process bills. The firm also required holiday requests for the Easter ­period to be submitted three months in advance.

Firms that have not put any measures in place to deal with the shortened month have been communicating the need for extra efficiency to their partners.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer finance director Laurence Milsted said: “Most of what we’ve been doing is around communication and chasing up ­partners about it pretty much since the wedding was announced. We’ve told ­people to assume that everybody’s going to be on holiday from Easter onwards.”

The loss of an extra day’s business at the most critical time of a law firm’s annual cycle has angered some ­senior City figures.

One departmental head at a top 20 firm said: “I wish the royal couple well, but to be honest it’s been a ­massive pain in the a**e.”