When the towns of Malden and Pine City were destroyed by fire in 2020, the residents were left with nothing and are still trying to pick up the …Why Young Attorneys Fear Working in Rural Areas and Why They Shouldn’t
Like most workplaces, law firms faced an unprecedented situation in 2020 that has continued into 2021. First, they had to implement a system for …Back to the Office After COVID-19: How are Law Firms Preparing for It?
When was the last time you paused, thought about the recent past, and made a plan for the future?
I know. You’re busy. Clients are calling. Cases demand attention. But you do too. STOP. Now.
The first step is easy
Open your calendar, find a free time slot. Preferably an afternoon, but I’ll take an hour if that’s all you can find. Set a date to reflect and plan.
When the time arrives
Don’t blow it off. Put files, to do lists, and your phone aside.
Set the scene by transitioning away from work. Take a quick walk or listen to music for a few minutes. When you’re ready, sit down with pen and paper. Avoid electronics, as the tendency to stray into work may be too tempting.
Take a self audit
What went well this year? What went poorly? Where do you want to be in 2021? Any ideas about what you might do differently? If no thoughts come to mind, make a list of people you can call. Talking through what to do and how to get there can be a tremendous help.
The ABA COLAP Cafe recently reprinted an excellent article on conducting a year-end self audit. Access it here. Take advantage of our own LAP (lawyers assistance program). The Oregon Attorney Assistance Program is free and confidential. If you know you want change and are at a loss about next steps, or just want someone to run your thoughts by, the OAAP can help. Visit the OAAP website to contact an attorney counselor. Consider scheduling a phone conference now as a follow up to your reserved planning date.
2021 is coming. We can make it better than 2020.
All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis
With law firm revenues taking a hit from COVID-19, effective billing and collection procedures have never been more important. Follow the best practices outlined below to minimize hiccups.
- Review pre-bills carefully. Misspelled names and billing errors are irksome to clients.
- Correct any mistakes that slip by quickly and accurately – the first time.
- Issue statements before clients receive their paychecks – before the 15th and again at month end. If you serve corporate clients, send bills in a manner and format that works for the accounts payable department. When cash flow is challenging – for you or your client – weekly billing may be an option.
- Always include a due date on statements. Most clients prioritize payment based on due date.
- Offer incentives. In lieu of late fees or interest, offer clients a discount if payment is received within 10 days of the billing date.
- Give clients the 411. Your bill should tell a story – the who, what, and why of the work performed.
- Stick to your agreed upon billing interval. Monthly, quarterly, weekly – whatever it may be. Inconsistent billings disrupt firm cash flow, infuriate clients, and make collection more difficult.
- Be flexible in how you accept payment – Venmo, Zelle, PayPal, ApplePay, credit card. Absorbing processing fees may not be fun but it’s better than not getting paid.
Head off problems
- Always take the time to discuss fees, costs, and billing procedures. Most nonpaying clients who file retaliation suits or malpractice counterclaims do so because they never understood what the lawyer’s services would cost.
- Never leave home without a written fee agreement. Be specific and complete. Your agreement should: (a) specify the scope and timing of services; (b) describe what the client is expected to pay for and when; (c) explain billing practices; (d) identify what will occur if payment is not timely made. Losing a potential client who refuses to negotiate and agree to a comprehensive fee and engagement agreement is a small price to pay compared to defending yourself in a malpractice claim or disciplinary proceeding.
- Consider alternative fee arrangements – flat fees, fixed fees, unbundled fees, evergreen retainers, or “last month’s rent.” Clients cooperate more fully when they are financially invested in their case. If the client is unwilling to commit financially, the matter quickly becomes your problem rather than the client’s.
- Don’t allow outstanding fees to accumulate during the course of representation. As soon as a payment is missed, call the client. Get to the root of the nonpayment. Is the client dissatisfied? If a client becomes seriously delinquent, terminate the attorney-client relationship and withdraw from representation if possible.
- Offer to resolve disputes through the Oregon State Bar’s Fee Dispute Resolution Program.
Before you sue
Ask yourself these questions:
- Will a judgment be collectible if obtained?
- Do you stand to gain or lose a substantial amount of money?
- Are there any grounds upon which the client can credibly dispute the debt or any part of it?
- Have you really listened to your client’s side of the dispute?
- Was a good result obtained in the underlying case?
- Has an uninvolved, experienced lawyer reviewed the file for possible malpractice?
- Will a law suit result in bad publicity reflecting negatively on you or your law firm?
- Have you offered to arbitrate, compromise or meet the client part way on the amount due?
Most collection problems can be averted at the outset of representation. A frank discussion of fees, finances, and billing procedures will greatly reduce the possibility of disputes.
All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis
You may feel there’s nothing you can do about stress. The bills won’t stop coming, there will never be more hours in the day, and your work and family responsibilities will always be demanding. However, you have more control over stress than you might think. No matter how stressful your life seems, you can take steps to relieve the pressure and regain balance.
How? By using the four A’s:
- Start by reading these 12 specific tips offered in Stress Management: How to Reduce, Prevent, and Cope with Stress.
- Download the “Stress Relief Toolbox” provided by the authors. As they suggest, it’s not a bad idea to use one of these tools every day. Don’t wait for stress to build up.
- If you’re a list-maker, the “Stress Management Self-Help Checklist” may appeal to you. It’s a good way to stay on track and remind yourself of the importance of managing stress as part of your overall health.
- Last, but not least: if you’re trying to get a handle on the stressors in your life, consider keeping a “Stress Journal.”
For specific advice on how to cope with holiday expectations and holiday-related stress, review these articles from the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program:
- Give to Yourself This Holiday Season
- How to Let Go of Holiday Expectations
- Plan a Stress-Less Holiday
- A Resilient Mindset
Updated 2020 All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis