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How Coursera Transformed Their Accruals Process

When it comes to the topic of improving your legal team’s accrual accounting process, there is perhaps no better expert to turn to for advice than MaryBeth Blair, Director of Legal Operations and Lead Counsel (Procurement) at Coursera.

MaryBeth’s extensive experience working with in-house legal teams and in legal operations roles at Coursera, UNFI, and Panera Bread has provided her with unique insights into the complexities of the accrual accounting process. And in her current role at Coursera, she was recently lauded by the finance team for transforming how the legal department managed their accruals.

During a recent Brightflag webinar, “Becoming an Accruals Pro,” Marybeth shared some of her best tips for improving accrual accuracy and timeliness.

Getting Accruals Reporting Right

One of the first things MaryBeth discussed was how important it is to report on the right data points when working with the accounting team on accruals.

“What I suggested was fairly simple: have a meeting with our accounting team, get somebody from Brightflag—our customer success manager—on the call, and find out exactly what accounting needs,” MaryBeth said. “Because we don’t wanna give them too much information and overwhelm them.”

This simple step of sitting down to make sure accounting was receiving the right data—and only the right data—made a big difference. “We were able to trim down the reports—really tailor it to what they needed exactly. And then it just started to work much more easily every month, and we saw less questions coming back from the accounting team.”

Communicating Expectations with Your Law Firms

A good e-billing platform makes managing and collecting data on accruals easier. But at the end of the day, a strong relationship with your law firms—built on open communication and clear expectations—will play a big role in comprehensive accruals collection and reporting.

“There are some law firms that just get it and they’re in there reporting, and I never have to reach out to them,” MaryBeth noted.

That is, of course, the ideal. But what do you do when you notice that a law firm isn’t consistently reporting on their accruals?

“I think you have to start the conversation with the billing partner, or the billing person over there. But sometimes I escalate that to the managing partner—and our internal lawyers too, if it’s particularly tricky. Or if they’re just not hearing the message. Explaining to [the law firm] why this matters to us, and pointing them to our outside counsel guidelines—which they signed before they began working with us—usually helps them understand.”

Making the extra effort to smooth over these bumps in the road can go a long way towards cutting down on some of the moving parts involved in the accruals process. It can also help ensure your ongoing relationship with your law firm is on equal footing.

As MaryBeth pointed out, when it comes to working with law firms: “We need you to not only be a good legal adviser; we need you to be our business partner too.”

Becoming an Accruals Pro

These accruals tips truly only scratch the surface of the great insights that MaryBeth offered during our conversation.

To learn more about how to level up your accruals process—including tips on getting timely accruals from law firms, strengthening collaboration with your finance team, and leveraging an e-billing system to automate the accruals process—check out the full webinar.

MaryBeth Blair on how Brightflag has helped streamline the accruals process.

And if you’re curious to learn more about how Brightflag can help streamline accruals with its A.I.-backed e-billing and matter management capabilities, book a demo with us today.

Sarah Scales

Head of Product Marketing at Brightflag

Sarah Scales is the Head of Product Marketing at Brightflag, previously serving as a Product Manager and Change Manager. Sarah holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Law and Political Science from Trinity College Dublin, as well as a post-graduate diploma in Software Product Management from Technological University Dublin.