From our friends at NW Sidebar, seven steps you should take now to get your 2020 financials organized:
It’s that time again! Not just for holidays and eggnog, but also taxes, 1099s, and other year-end financial must-dos. And after the year we’ve had – what with PPP loans and unplanned expenses – the process will be more complicated than ever. If we set aside just a few minutes to organize our year-end now, we’ll find ourselves much less stressed when the new year and tax deadlines roll around. This practical, step-by-step guide will set you and your firm up for a year-end win and success in 2021.
COVID, wildfires, court operations, and closures dominated headlines and our lives. So did the tech world, the hard work of staying productive, and not letting the stress of it all get to us.
Hopefully you found some useful posts in 2020. If you’ve been battling procrastination, there is help. If you need to jump start your marketing, I did a four part series in July. If collecting fees has been … challenging … I have a few suggestions. Here’s a recap of substantive topics covered in the past twelve months. And here’s to 2021!
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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.
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.
While traveling is not as prevalent as it was before COVID-19, we remain mobile. That means you can still run out of juice while away from the office.
Did you know that using a charging port, borrowing a cable, or relying on someone else’s external battery can put your smartphone, tablet, or laptop at risk?
The problem is malware, in which hackers take advantage of USB connections to hide and deliver secret data payloads that a user might think was only transferring electrical power. This is called “juice jacking.” Its visual counterpart, known as “video jacking,” occurs when a hacker records and mirrors the screen of a device that was plugged in for a charge.
Consider buying a charging-only cable, which prevents data from sending or receiving while charging.
Discard any free USB cables, chargers, adapters, or similar accessories that you received as a promotional item. They are too risky, warns the FBI. Microcontrollers and electronic parts have become so small these days that criminals can hide mini-computers and malware inside a USB cable itself.
As we move into the holiday season, you may be tempted to buy cheap electronic accessories as stocking stuffers or gifts. Please think twice. Consider the source and the manufacturer when making your purchases. Proprietary cables, chargers, adapters, docks, or battery backups often feel like they cost more than they should. (Pssst … Are you listening Apple?) But imagine what you’d spend trying to recover from data theft and fraud if a hacker gained access to your device? It isn’t worth it.
There’s another good reason to buy genuine electronic accessories from the manufacturer. They prolong the life of your device by charging it properly and completely.
As an example, the charging cables for your iPhone and iPad are not identical. The same is true of Samsung devices. I’m not saying that switching out proprietary chargers among your devices won’t work. I am saying that doing so is not optimal. And that’s within the same device manufacturer ….
Before we had to worry about juice jacking, I fell down the path of cheapie chargers. I learned quickly that I was wasting my money. If you don’t believe me, just Google “why cheap charging accessories don’t work,” to see pages of posts and warnings.