Goal Setting as an Associate Attorney

From our friends at NW Sidebar:

Attorney Ally Kennedy Garcia offers her tips for gaining a foothold for success in a law firm.

Source: Goal Setting as an Associate Attorney

Pledge to Get Paid in 2016

How many times have you heard, “If you want to avoid collection problems, get your fee up front?”  Good advice, but how exactly do you make it happen?  Here are four sure-fire techniques:

Use Evergreen Retainers

In this type of arrangement, the client agrees to maintain a specified retainer balance at all times.  Your bill should reflect the initial retainer deposit, fees and costs incurred during the month, total funds disbursed from the client’s retainer, any balance remaining, and the amount needed to replenish the retainer.

Keep a careful eye on the client’s balance at all times.  If the client fails to replenish the retainer as required, be prepared to enforce the terms of your agreement (including withdrawal).

Offer Discounts

Discounts can be a great motivator for clients to give you a retainer, pay your fee up front, or promptly take care of an outstanding balance.  Here are some examples:

  • Your rate is $250 per hour if the client is invoiced, but if the client establishes a retainer, your rate is reduced to $200 per hour.  [Establishing a retainer triggers the lower hourly rate.]
  • You offer preparation of a complete estate plan at $2,500, due and payable upon completion.  If the client is willing to pay up front before work begins, your flat fee is reduced to $2,000.  [The earned upon receipt fee triggers a $500 savings to the client in return for being paid now.]
  • You offer 10% off your bill if the client remits payment within 10 days (instead of the usual 30 or more).  [Your early payment discount saves the client money and allows you to collect the outstanding receivable in one-third the usual time.]

Tinker with the math to make discounts work for you.

Practice Tip: If you intend to charge a “fixed fee earned upon receipt” read and understand Oregon Rules of Professional Conduct 1.5 and 1.15-1  and OSB Formal Opinion 2005-151These arrangements must be in writing and must contain specified disclosures.

Collect Last Month’s Rent

Inspired by a common practice in landlord-tenant agreements, the “last month’s rent” approach requires the client to pay a security deposit into the lawyer trust account. Each month the client is invoiced and expected to pay.  At the conclusion of the matter, the security deposit is used to pay the client’s final bill. Alternatively, the deposit can also be used if the client fails to pay a monthly invoice.

As with all fee agreements, put your “last month’s rent” arrangement in writing. Keep in mind that if the client’s funds can earn net interest, you are required to establish a separate interest-bearing account for the client or obtain a waiver of the client’s right to interest. See OSB Formal Opinion 2005-117 for additional details.

Accept Credit Cards

Avoid bookkeeping hassles by using a private credit card processor who will take merchant fees only from your business account, not your lawyer trust account. Be sure to read and comply with OSB Formal Opinion 2005-172.  Credit cards are a great way to collect retainers when clients can’t otherwise come up with the funds.

[All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis]

February is Finance Month

February 2016 is finance month at Oregon Law Practice Management.  We are going to revisit and update some “oldie but goodie” posts on law firm finances: money-tree

  • How to get paid
  • Bartering for legal services
  • Adding surcharges if the client fails to pay
  • The seven golden rules of collection
  • The five C’s of hybrid fee agreements

We start off tomorrow with Four Sure-Fire Ways to Get Paid in 2016.

See you on February 1!

[All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis]

 

Seamless Client Intake Webinar

  • Ever wish you could streamline your solo or small firm practice to easily track contacts, client leads, tasks, and reminders?
  • Or send out client intake forms with a few clicks of your mouse, set a due date for clients to complete forms, and automate client reminders?
  • Maybe you’ve been longing to implement eSigning of fee agreement and engagement letters, but you’re not quite certain how to get started.

On January 12, 2016 we offered a free Webinar with Lexicata – the all-in-one client relationship management and client intake solution exclusively for lawyers.

Did You Miss the Program?

No worries!  We recorded it.  It will be available in the next few weeks on the Past CLE page of our Website, free of charge.

We are pleased to make this CLE available to all Oregon lawyers, as Lexicata is really the only product on the market that can offer true client intake online – a feature many lawyers want to incorporate into their practice, but find cost-prohibitive to develop on their own.

 

Using Online Forms Is Easy and (Can Be) Ethical

Another good post from NW Sidebar:

If anyone at your firm is routinely inputting lots of information, you might want to explore whether you could automate that system. Tacoma immigration attorney Greg McLawsen explains how it’s done.
http://nwsidebar.wsba.org/2016/01/06/using-online-forms-is-easy-and-can-be-ethical/

Turn Over a New Leaf through Better Client Management

The New Year is an opportunity to do things differently.  Why not resolve to improve client management?

Lesson One

The first lesson in managing client expectations is that some folks should never become your clients.  Become a “red flag” spotter.  Screen potential new clients with these questions in mind:

  • Who referred the new client?  The quality of the referral source can speak volumes (best client ever: you’ve got another winner; client from hell: run for the hills).
  • Are you taking the case because the new client is a friend or family member?  If this is the only reason, it isn’t good enough.
  • Are you overlooking a potential conflict?  Be especially wary when representing multiple clients, who are almost never equally situated (though they may argue with you).
  • Is the client lawyer shopping? If you are the third lawyer the client has consulted, one or more of the following is likely to be true: the client has no case or a bad case; the client is perpetually dissatisfied; the client doesn’t have any money; the client is purposely trying to conflict you out of representing the opposing party.
  • Does the client have a bad attitude toward lawyers or other professionals? Proceed cautiously if the client’s feelings seem disproportionate. A client who sees conspiracies around every corner can quickly become a nightmare for you.
  • Is the client pursuing the matter on principle without regard to cost? Unfortunately, proceeding on “principle” is sometimes a masquerade for vindictiveness or revenge. A client who seems to be pressing on this point a bit too much won’t be very amenable to settlement and may not be willing to cooperate on simple tasks like scheduling depositions or cooperating with discovery requests.  This client’s motive is to push the other side’s buttons with the side effect of irritating you.
  • And the list goes on.  Learn all the red flags.

Lesson Two

The second lesson in managing client expectations is to think about your practice from the client’s point of view.  Perfectly good clients with decent cases can turn into clients from hell if they feel their expectations aren’t being met.  Avoid this trap:

  1. Be realistic about potential results.  Depositions, discovery, and your own investigation may reveal that your client’s “perfect case” isn’t so perfect after all. It is better to be a bit conservative than to give clients false hope.
  2. Provide accurate timelines. This is easier for transactional lawyers than litigators. Television and movies make it appear that conflicts can be resolved in one, two or three hours, leading clients to believe their case will be a sprint to the finish. Prepare your clients for a marathon.
  3. Talk about fees and costs up front.  Money will be on the client’s mind, so address it early.  Whatever arrangement you make, be sure the client understands exactly what is required of them.  If you bill hourly and provide the client with an estimate or budget, keep a close eye on the numbers.  If it becomes obvious to you that the work can’t be finished for the specified amount, speak up right away.  Always stick to your billing schedule and get invoices out on a timely basis so clients know where they stand financially.
  4. Establish turnaround times for phone calls and emails.  The best approach is to set aside a specific time of day to return calls and reply to messages.  If your schedule allows, you can do this more than once per day.  For example, upon arriving at the office, around lunch time, and again at the end of the day.  If you are a busy trial lawyer running a solo practice, it may be more reasonable to inform clients that you will respond within 48 business hours to calls or emails.  By letting clients know when to receive a response, you manage their expectation that all communications are “instant.”
  5. Inform clients about extended absences.  If a trial or other commitment is going to keep you out of the office for an extended period, change your outgoing voicemail message and consider sending an email blast so clients are prepared.
  6. Use staff effectively.  Some lawyers postpone hiring an assistant because they believe they can’t afford staff.  In turn, these same lawyers spend valuable billable hours performing clerical tasks.  Before you write off the idea of hiring someone, do the math.  Odds are the billable time you recoup from delegating nonbillable tasks to a full or part-time staffer will more than pay for your employee.  Staff can help you respond to the barrage of emails, phone calls, and client requests while keeping an eye on deadlines and getting work product out the door.  Improving responsiveness and timeliness makes for happier clients.
  7. Keep clients informed by transmitting all incoming and outgoing work product.  Clients want tangible results, but we work in a business where there isn’t much to “show”  that clients can put their hands on.  Documents are an exception.  Keep them flowing.
  8. Review all open files at least once in any 30 day period.  Your best option to is create a recurring task or reminder in your calendar or practice management software for each file.  When a new file is opened, part of your file opening procedure should include setting a revolving reminder or tickler to review the new file.  If you don’t have tickle dates for each of your existing files, generate a client list and begin scheduling recurring 30 day reminders for each file.  Try to spread the file review process over the entire month so you aren’t overwhelmed on any one day. Creating a reminder or tickler system means you are less likely to forget about files.  Use monthly reminders as a starting place for delegation and as a prompt to contact clients with a status report. When you stay on top of your files and provide regular status updates, clients feel like you are engaged, involved, and care about their case.

All Rights Reserved [2016] Beverly Michaelis

 

 

The New Year Offers a Fresh Start

If your goals for the new year include any of the following:

  • Reducing your stress leveldownload
  • Improving your office routines
  • Increasing productivity
  • Streamlining office systems
  • Balancing the demands of work and home

then resolve to get a head start.  Check out these classic posts on how to “spring clean” your office systems and work habits.

Feeling Overwhelmed?

If you’re an Oregon lawyer, you have a great resource right in your own backyard:  the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program.  The OAAP can give you guidance on how to develop your own stress management program using deep relaxation, meditation, time management, and other proven stress-reducing techniques.  Best of all, OAAP services are free and confidential.

Looking for Practice Management Advice?

We’re here to help! Professional Liability Fund Practice Management Advisors provide free and confidential assistance with office systems.  If you’re a lawyer in Oregon, give us a call!  800-452-1639 Toll-Free in Oregon or 503-639-6911.

Coming Soon – Turn Over a New Leaf through Better Client Management

Stay tuned next week for a new post: Turn Over a New Leaf Through Better Client Management.

All Rights Reserved – Beverly Michaelis [2016]

Happy New Year!

What are your New Year’s resolutions?

 

You don’t really have to choose, because in 2016 you’ll see posts on all these topics and more!

STREAMLINE YOUR PRACTICE IN THE NEW YEAR

We begin the year with a Fresh Start.  If you’ve ever felt disorganized or overwhelmed, this post is for you.  No habit or office system is written in stone.  You can make adjustments, update your practices, or create new procedures. For a kickstart, visit this blog tomorrow.

BETTER CLIENT MANAGEMENT

Recommitting to marketing and client retention begins with understanding how to control and relate to clients.  Watch for Turn Over a New Leaf with Better Client Management on January 11.

SHOW ME THE MONEY

Collecting fees is a battle every lawyer fights. In 2016 we’ll revisit fees and fee collection with a look-back to these classics, updated for the new year:

  • The 7 Golden Rules of Collection
  • Can I Double My Fees if the Client Doesn’t Pay?
  • Bartering Legal Services
  • Four Sure-Fire Ways to Get Paid

Speaking of money, be sure to stay tuned on January 25th for Do Lawyers Have an Ethical Duty to Replace Hacked Funds?  Cyber crime is an ever-growing problem.  If you’re hacked and trust funds are taken, are you automatically obliged to make your clients whole?

BETTER TECH FOR EVERYONE

On January 19, we’ll revisit lessons learned at the PLF’s Seamless Client Intake Webinar featuring Lexicata. If you resolved to embrace the cloud or upgrade your tech for 2016, attending this FREE program is a good start.  Registration is closing soon, so if you haven’t signed up yet do so before January 6.  Visit the PLF Website and select CLE > Upcoming CLE.

Happy New Year!

FSRapids

All Rights Reserved – Beverly Michaelis [2016]