By Emma Pelly ILFMDip, Office Manager for Pellys Transport & Regulatory Law and member of Legal Futures Associate ILFM
Pellys is a small “boutique” law firm that acts for commercial vehicle operators and their drivers across England and Wales; it’s rather niche!
My background is in animal nutrition and marketing, but in 2016 I took on the accounts role for the firm. To say that it was a steep learning curve would be putting it mildly. Having spent years managing and spending budgets I was suddenly responsible for the day to day running and financial management of the practice.
My role soon included looking after compliance with the LEXCEL accreditation that Pellys holds.
It became clear very quickly that my role involved considerably more than basic bookkeeping. Law firm legal finance roles are so much more than data entry into a firm’s time recording and accounts systems!
Understanding the myriad of rules applicable to a law firm seemed to be essential, as well as having a proper understanding of the double entry accounting that forms the foundation of the practice’s accounts software. This is what eventually lead me to the ILFM.
I started by attending a variety of different training courses supplied by various training providers. It was on one of these that I met an ILFM member who recommended that anyone in charge of the day to day running of the accounts function for a law firm should study for the ILFM diploma.
A month later I started the ILFM Diploma course, with two children under 10 to look after as well as the day job. The diploma course was rigorous. Looking back, I can see that it needed to be this way. At the time, and especially at the start, I found the course syllabus a real challenge. It is a serious course with challenging questions.
For the first nine months I have to say I felt that I was struggling to keep up – lots of new terminologies (I still use the ‘DEAD CLIC’ acronym to this day) and the challenges of mastering double entry accounting. There were times when I wondered what I had let myself in for! Knowing there are people working in law firm accounts functions who don’t have formal qualifications, it was not a given that I had to put myself through this process (but now I wonder why law firms do not make it compulsory for all legal finance employees to have ILFM formal qualifications).
Eventually, with a little patience and persistence, the course started to click for me. I sat the first part of the diploma in 2018 and was thrilled to be awarded a distinction and encouraged that I was making reasonable progress. I immediately pressed on to study and then sit the second (and final) part of the diploma– which included a major focus on the Solicitors Accounts Rules. I sat the second part in May 2019, and I was honoured to be awarded a second distinction and also to win the Richard Halberstadt award for the highest mark achieved that year!
I display my ILFM certificates with pride in the office and am really pleased that I found the ILFM and did the Diploma course – it has proved beyond useful in my role for the Practice. Having ongoing access to the ILFM as a Diploma member has also proved useful, the ILFM continues to be a valuable resource for myself and the Practice to this day.
Emma Pelly’s Top Tips for ILFM Studies
When it comes to taking the exams for the diploma, the one thing I would recommend is to ensure that you can make the time for preparations.
Time and practise
Understandably the time is set to be challenging. For students to hit that time and receive good marks, they should know the syllabus inside out. If time has been set aside to study and prepare, when it comes to reading the transaction question, and writing the necessary ledger entries it should be practically done without thinking about it.
Once I had finished the modules, received the practice papers and revision guides the next step is sitting the exams. I prepared for the exams by making sure I sat down for the allotted time for each paper and completed the questions under exam conditions. By that I mean, no distractions and no stopping to look up questions I was not sure about. I marked my work afterwards to see where I had made errors and where I needed to work on my knowledge and understanding.
Following the above pattern and strategy meant that when I was in the actual exam I did not get flustered about the time (which is tight!) because I knew I could do it! That was a big part in achieving the results I got.
Strategies in sitting exam papers
My tip for sitting the ILFM Diploma’s Part Two would be changing it up a bit!
The second part of the Diploma focuses on the Accounts Rules and requires you to answer some essay type questions, as well as the double entry accounting aspect.
Time of course is pertinent, so the practice element from above is vital, but crucially I decided that it was better to ‘ring-craft’ and do ‘part B’ first! Part B is the double entry part of the exam, preceded by Part A, which applies essay questions and answers.
It felt a little bit odd on the day to do so, as I was the only one in the room tapping away on my calculator at the start of the exam! Everyone else was focusing on doing the Part A essay parts, but for me, flipping them meant that I had plenty of time to go back over the work I had done on the ledgers.
Answering the papers back to front also meant that I had plenty of time to adjust ledgers (rather than “last minute panic!”). I worked this strategy out because of conclusions in my studies and previous practises for the exam. For me, flipping the papers meant that I could calmly deal with the tricky ledger parts as I had enough time to spare.
Once the tricky ledgers had been calmly dealt with, I moved onto the essay part!
From the practice runs and appreciating the ILFM Diploma is an exceptional qualification so hard work must be put into to achieve it, I knew that the essay parts of this paper would still be challenging. However, these questions are more forgiving time-wise, so anyone running-over from the suggested time on the double entry part of the paper would be ok.
I think my result of 100% on the part B of that exam corroborates that strategy!
Finally, I would say to all students studying the ILFM Diploma that they should not give up. It is a challenge, and it will be tricky but the confidence and knowledge it gives you in this career is outstanding.
When I think back to starting in the law practice’s accounts department, when I could not tell the difference between a sales ledger and a nominal ledger, or how to record a disbursement payment correctly, it shows that perseverance with practising on time and strategies you can fulfil your potential! Winning the ILFM’s “Richard Halbersadt” award was a great achievement for me, and if I can do it, I have no doubt other students can too.
Good luck to all the candidates taking ILFM exams this year and beyond – it is worth the effort!