An Oldie and a Goodie: Empowering Law Practice Management Tips

Whilst strolling through the Internet one day, I came across this post by Peggy Gruenke at Attorney at Work. Twenty simple ideas that are timeless and critically important if you want your law firm to succeed. Here are a few of my financial-themed favorites with thoughts of my own.

Peggy’s five financial tips – greatly condensed

  • Write a business plan
  • Create a budget
  • Know your overhead costs
  • State your fee with authority
  • Bill early, often, and strategically

Money and goals

As the business owner, your goal is to see the big picture.  Who are you? Why are you unique? Who are you best equipped to serve? This is the purpose of a business plan, according to Peggy Gruenke.

My input? Don’t be intimated! Your business plan does not have to be a magnum opus. You can get it done in a few pages. Creating a business plan will give you:

  • Clarity about what you want to do
  • Control over your own fate
  • A strategy for staying organized and on track
  • Accountability
  • A way to measure and monitor your progress
  • A path to help you move forward

Want help? See my business plan checklist – originally designed for law students, but easily conformed to active law practices.

Budgeting and costs

Budgeting can be as simple as a basic spreadsheet. Track what comes in and what goes out. Don’t bother with incorporating prior years (unless you have a driving reason to do so). Just start now. Toward year-end use your 2018 data to create projections for 2019.

As Peggy says, “You should know (by heart) how much money you need to make to keep the doors open.”

To get started, revisit this article by yours truly, Dee Crocker and Sheila Blackford.  As motivation, consider this excerpt:

Every law office should have a budget. Without one, it’s easy to overspend and hard to plan for future purchases. Knowing your overhead costs will help you decide how much revenue you need to make and how much you need to charge to bring in that amount. Failure to budget can cause financial problems. Lawyers with financial problems may take on new clients who have money in hand, leaving the work for existing clients unfinished. This can lead to disciplinary complaints from clients whose work is not completed.

I guarantee that your monthly “budget to actual” report, which compares actual spending against budget projections, will become your new best friend.

Stating your fee with authority

When a prospective client tells you that Lawyer Smith is willing to do the same work for $2,000 less, tell the person kindly that he can then retain Lawyer Smith. When you reduce your fee, you will have lost the trust of your prospective client. Odds are, in time, that client will leave Lawyer Smith and retain you to handle the mess that Lawyer Smith made.

Set a fee and stick to it! I know this can be hard, especially if you’re new to solo practice. Know in advance what you propose to charge, don’t make it up on the fly. Be matter-of-fact, business-like, and deliver the number without hesitation. You’re always free to make adjustments with the next case, but don’t waiver with the client sitting in front of you. For help in getting started, see this post.

Bill early and often

When you are ready to bill, issue invoices as soon after the event as possible: “As each day passes after an event, the perception of your value is diminished. If you send out the bill even two weeks afterward, the client won’t perceive the value to be as high.” (Peggy’s words of wisdom.)

There is no reason you can’t deliver your final bill with transactional documents. Take advantage of the arc of client gratitude while it is still in your favor!

Looking for more billing tips? Check out this resource.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

Tips for Improving Client Relationships

Hot off the presses!  Get your copy of Tips for Improving Client Relationships, a free eBook available to download now.

Topics include:

  • Effective communication techniques
  • How procrastination affects client relationships
  • How to say “no”
  • Integrating client communication into your everyday workflows
  • Thanking clients as part of your
    closing ritual
  • The Art of CYA
  • Why letters may be superior to emails
  • When to call or meet in person vs. texting or emailing

Each section contains straightforward tips designed to help you build and improve upon client relationships quickly and easily.  Download your free copy today.

While visiting the online store, don’t forget to peruse the on demand CLE section with these offerings:

All programs are current and accredited by the Oregon State Bar.  Visit the online store for details.  Every on demand CLE includes:

  • MP4 download (combined audio and video file)
  • M4a download (audio only)
  • Written program materials, including presentation slides and resources
  • Answers to polling questions asked during the live CLE
  • MCLE Form 6 for self-reporting of MCLE credits

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis (2018)

How to Treat Bad Clients

When you saw this post title, how did you react? Was your first thought: “Kick ’em to the curb” or “I wonder where this is going?” If it was the former, don’t feel bad – it’s my knee-jerk reaction too.

When we hear the words “bad client,” we instinctively cringe. It conjures up past experiences we would rather not relive. Frankly, nothing could be more unpleasant. So what should we do?

Remedies for bad clients

Want to weed out or eliminate bad clients? Nothing beats:

  1. Screening at intake;
  2. Controlling expectations; and
  3. Knowing when to say no.

Trouble is, most of us know these lessons.  So …

What if a bad client squeezes by?

If there is an irremediable breakdown in the lawyer-client relationship and withdrawal is viable, do it. At this stage, it isn’t going to get better. Yet, some lawyers refuse to do so.

Why would anyone hold on to a client who belittled and berated them? Denied that telephone conversations or email exchanges occurred? Refused to produce materials requested in discovery? Insisted the lawyer use unethical or illegal tactics? (All actual events that have happened to lawyers I know.)

Money is generally the explanation. The lawyer can’t afford to forego the fee (or jeopardize her job). There are other reasons too, like fear and intimidation.

I hope you never experience any of this. If you do, I hope you are strong enough to get out. If you want to talk it over with someone, consider calling one of the confidential attorney counselors at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP).

Is there another approach?

I was motivated to revisit this topic by blogger Celia Elwell. In a recent post, she took on lawyers and legal staff who retaliate against ill-tempered clients by putting the client’s work at the bottom of the stack. Since I’ve witnessed this too, I wanted to share this point made by Ms. Elwell:

Most people, as a rule, do not call an attorney’s office because they are having a good day. Before they became our clients, they realized they had a problem, tried to deal with it, were unsuccessful, stressed, and lost sleep. In short, we are not seeing them at their best.

Take good notes when your clients vent, rant, or repeat themselves. Because they are upset, they may be mistaken or confused. Let the client know that you are listening to them. Interrupt only when you need them to repeat something to make sure you get it right. Document the clients’ concerns, and tell your attorney they called and why.

While her remarks are directed toward staff, they are good reminders for us all.

If you didn’t spot it, notice I suggested above that withdrawal made sense if (a) it was viable and (b) there was an irremediable breakdown in the lawyer-client relationship.

What if you aren’t there yet? This is when Ms. Elwell’s advice comes in handy.

Do not under any circumstances intentionally retaliate by putting the client’s work at the bottom of the stack. At the least, it is unprofessional. It will also likely result in a bar complaint and/or legal malpractice claim. Instead, take the high ground:

  • Try to diagnose what went wrong. Is the client mad at you or someone else? Is the client mistaken or confused? Is this about money? How stressed is the client? Consider scheduling an in-person meeting to air out client concerns.
  • Go out of your way to be courteous and considerate. Instruct staff to do the same.
  • Do high quality work in a timely manner.

It’s easy to be resentful and decide that we’re going to give what we get. But if you go out of your way to appease the upset client, you remove all rational grounds for disputes, complaints, and claims. It’s better to remain professional, even if the “bad” client never appreciates it.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

Postscript

For more tips on improving client relationships, check out this CLE:
7 Steps to Building Better Client Relationships.

 

Bidding Adieu to TECHSHOW

Last month I highlighted the ever-popular “60 in 60” tips, websites, gadgets, and resources from the 2018 ABA TECHSHOW as well as some great advice from security experts. Before we say goodbye to 2018 entirely and turn our thoughts to 2019, I wanted to share some of the other stories I curated from this conference:

If any of these topics interest you, click on the links above to learn more.  See you next week at Best Practices for Docketing, Conflicts, Disengagement, and File Retention.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

 

The Best of 60 in 60 from the 2018 ABA TECHSHOW

It’s hard to categorize the annual “60 in 60” tips session at ABA TECHSHOW because it could be anything – useful websites, new apps, career resources, gadgets, editing and proofreading tools for lawyers, or anything else the panelists find that we can’t live without.  Below is a sample of what was covered this year.  For the complete list, view my story on Wakelet.

The short list from 60 in 60

  • TimeFlip – a battery-powered cardboard polygon that uses an app on your smartphone to track time spent on meetings, phone calls, email, and other tasks.
  • Dryver – the mobile app where you can hire a driver starting at $15.95/hour to drive you around in your own car.
  • Ceev.io – the free Chrome extension that uses your LinkedIn profile to create a resume. Here’s mine. Choose from four themes, nine accent colors, and five different fonts at no charge. Unlock more options for $10.  My tip: also consider Strikingly, which allows you to create a website using your LinkedIn profile.
  • The Noris digital pencil from Staedtler – an electromagnetic input pencil that feels like your old #2, looks like your old #2, and works with Samsung smartphones.
  • Sideways Dictionary – a site that demystifies tech babble like “sandboxing” or “honeypot,” which have nothing to do with kids playing or bears eating honey.
  • PerfectIt – an intelligent editor and proofreader with a special style sheet specifically designed for lawyers. $99 a pop, integrates with Microsoft Word. Check out the free trial.
  • Flow-e – an email and task management platform combined to transform your inbox into a highly visual task board (Kanban style) or Sanebox, which automatically filters unimportant email out of your inbox (works with Gmail, Office 365, Apple iCloud, etc.).

There’s so much more … like how to create your own digital medical exhibits

Hopefully I’ve tempted you. Check out the complete list from 60 in 60!  Where else will you learn how to validate websites, determine if your passwords have been compromised, use private browsing, convert your blog into a podcast, check Google trends, or mute calls using your Apple watch?

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

Postscript

For more summaries of 2018 ABA TECHSHOW tips, advice, and resources for lawyers, see my main Wakelet page.