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

Collaboration Tools in Microsoft Word

Did you know that Microsoft Word has built-in collaboration tools? 

Word supports real-time chat and co-editing of documents online. Ready to start?  All you need is Microsoft OneDrive and Word 2016

Follow these steps:

  1. Save your document to OneDrive.
  2. Open your document in Word.
  3. Select Share on the ribbon (top right).
  4. Choose a contact to collaborate with by entering a name, email address, or searching your address book.
  5. Can edit permissions will be selected automatically in the drop-down. If desired, change to Can view instead.
  6. Add a message (optional).
  7. Click Share.

The “share” navigation pane in Word will display who owns the document, who can edit the document, and who can view the document.

On the receiving end, the person invited to edit your document will receive an email with the subject line, “I shared [name of document] with you in OneDrive.”  (A piece of advice: we live in an age of malware, so let your collaborator know the document is coming.)

Co-editing in Word

After you share your document, you can collaborate on that file at the same time with others.  Microsoft recommends working together in Word Online to see real-time changes. Colored flags will show you exactly where in the document each person is working.

Color flag in Word Online as you co-edit

Chat in Word

When editing together online, select Chat to open a chat window.  Type your message and press Enter to send.

Chat history is not saved when you close a document.  If the chat conversations are important, use copy and paste to preserve them: click in the Chat box, hit <Ctrl A> to select all, followed by <Ctrl C> to copy.  Open a new Word Document, paste the chat history using <Ctrl V>, save, and close.

Using Chat vs. Comments

Microsoft suggests using Chat when you want to communicate with others immediately, for example, to ask a quick question or divide sections among the co-editors.

Use Comments (on the Review tab on the ribbon) when you want to attach a comment to a specific selection within the document, such as when you need to ask if a word or phrase should be changed. Comments are saved with the document and can be replied to, marked as done or deleted.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis