Plan for 2021 by Reflecting on 2020

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.

Access resources

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

Collecting Fees

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.

Bill smarter

  • 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

Remember

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

Holiday Stress Revisited

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:

Avoid

Alter

Adapt

Accept

For specific advice on how to cope with holiday expectations and holiday-related stress, review these articles from the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program:

Updated 2020 All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis

Strengthening Client Relationships During COVID-19

Client needs are evolving. Has your service model kept pace?
Learn how to innovate and adapt to build better, sustainable relationships.

This program will focus on:

Identifying changing client needs
Becoming more client-centric
Advancing client service through technology
Adapting your communication style
Maximizing social media and website content to reassure clients
Developing flexible fee arrangements and billing practices
Improving client retention and renewing relationships

Date/Time/Location

Wednesday, December 2, 2020 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Pacific Time.  This is a live, online webinar. 

Register Now!

Registration is open for Strengthening Client Relationships During COVID-19.

Who Should Attend?

Lawyers, legal staff, conflict managers, or office administrators – anyone interested in improving client relationships during challenging times.

Group Discounts

Discounts available to firms who wish to register 5 or more attendees. Contact organizer to arrange a discount code before registering: beverly@oregonlawpracticemanagement.org.

Does the Program Include Written Materials?

Yes. Written materials will be distributed electronically to attendees.

Questions, Live Polling, and MCLE

Questions are welcome during the live event.  Attendees are also encouraged to participate in live, anonymous polling. OSB MCLE credit pending.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

New ABA Study on Malpractice Claims

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Approximately every four years since 1985, the American Bar Association has published a “Profile of Legal Malpractice Claims.” Plaintiffs’ personal injury and family law are the most frequent source of claims, according to the latest profile. Although the Profile does not correlate the severity of claims by practice area, the Profile’s “anecdotal observations” section suggests  that business and commercial law have traditionally been higher-risk areas on this score…

Risk Management by the Numbers: New ABA Study on Malpractice Claims — NWSidebar

Closer to Home

It is no particular surprise that Oregon mirrors the national statistics.

In 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, personal injury, domestic relations, and bankruptcy/debtor-creditor law top the list for frequency of claims in our state. They do not, however, represent the biggest payout. In fact, they don’t make the list.

If your concern is cost, look to business transactions, securities, other civil litigation, tax/non profit law, intellectual property, and construction.

Here are the details:

Don’t become a statistic

The risk of a legal malpractice claim can be greatly reduced by taking advantage of practice management resources. HOW you run your practice matters as much – or more – than the area of law you choose. Reading blogs, getting advice, and scheduling a webinar are all ways to educate yourself on malpractice traps.

Learning to manage your workflow and properly track deadlines is a must. So is managing your time. Reach out if you need help or have questions. Take advantage of PLF and OAAP resources. Getting your systems and procedures in order is the single most effective step any lawyer can take to manage the risk of a claim. This applies to those practicing in larger firms too. Your firm supplies the software and procedures, but when it comes down to managing your personal caseload that’s up to you.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis