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

Digital File Retention

 

If your answer to the poll was “yes,” or “I should,” give yourself a pat on the back.

If you don’t have a digital file retention policy, or more specifically, don’t believe you need a policy, please consider the following:

The more data you store, the more you must protect, and it isn’t free

Data protection is costly and doesn’t end with buying a server. If your firm stores digital files in-house, you must maintain your investment.  This means replacing obsolete storage media, preserving and testing backups, purchasing cybersecurity coverage, investing in and updating security software, budgeting for internal or outsourced IT services, and recovering from data theft, data breach, or system crashes if they occur. Cloud storage may alleviate some of this, although best practices dictate that cloud storage should be secondary to keeping on-premise copies of your data.

The duty to safeguard

Protection isn’t just a matter of out-of-pocket expenses, it has real ethical significance:

Taken together, Rule 1.6(c) and Rule
5.3 require a lawyer to take steps to prevent
disclosure of client information
through the misuse of technology, by
themselves or by any technology vendor
on which the lawyer relies. A lawyer’s
reasonable efforts to protect client data
might include reviewing a third-party
vendor’s terms of service to ensure that
they comply with industry standards relating
to confidentiality and security, and
that those standards are consistent with
the lawyer’s own professional obligations.

Mark Johnson Roberts, “Electronic Competence: As Technology Advances, So Must a Lawyer’s Understanding of It,” OSB Bulletin (June 2017).

If you place no limitations on digital file storage and something bad happens, more client data is exposed. Why would you want to take that risk?

Keep it and retrieve it

If you get into the perpetual storage business, be prepared to retrieve what you keep. Adhering to file retention recommendations and ethical requirements is one thing. Digging up records from 20, 30, or 40 years ago because you’ve chosen not to enforce a destruction policy is something else.

Setting reasonable digital file retention policies

For guidance on file retention, contact your local ethics hotline or professional liability carrier.  In Oregon, the following resources are available from the Professional Liability Fund. Select Practice Management > Forms.

  • Checklist for Scanning Client Files
  • File Retention and Destruction Guidelines
  • Production of Client File
  • Retention of Electronic Records

Mid-size and larger firms should consider a membership in ARMA, the Association of Records Managers and Administrators.  Another good resource is AIIM, the global community of information professionals.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

 

 

Oregon eService CLE

Registration is now open for
Oregon eService, scheduled for June 6, 2018 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:15 a.m., PDT.

This live, online webinar is for experts and novices alike. An opportunity to polish skills and apply tips straight from the courthouse or understand eService from the ground up.

Topics include:

Using eService

  • How to eServe in four easy steps
  • Service of process in the eFiling world: UTCR 21.100
  • Six compelling reasons to use eService

Identifying eService Exceptions

  • To eServe or not to eServe

Responding to Service Contact Issues

  • Requirements of UTCR 21.100(2)(a)
  • Pursuing sanctions under UTCR 1.090(2)
  • Best practice recommendations

Deliberating the Case of: eService vs. Service by Email

  • UTCR 21.100(4) vs. ORCP 9G
  • Pros, cons, and myths of service by email
  • Best practice recommendations

Drawing on Courthouse Wisdom: Do’s and Don’ts

  • How to use the “filing on behalf of” field
  • Should you or shouldn’t you serve yourself?
  • Multiple service methods
  • How to copy firm members on filings
  • Proper Certificates of Service
  • And more!

Getting Help and Improving eFile & Serve

  • Get assistance and give your input

Register Now
$25 – Visit the Upcoming CLE page or choose the registration link below. Secure payment processing powered by Eventbrite. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted. Program materials included in the registration price.

REGISTER NOW
Oregon eService CLE

 FAQs

Are group discounts available?
Discounts are available to firms who register 5 or more attendees. Contact me for a discount code before you register: beverly@oregonlawpracticemanagement.org.

Do the Programs Include Written Materials? 
Yes. Written materials are distributed electronically to attendees.

Are questions welcome?
Absolutely. Questions may be submitted any time during the live event or afterward via email. Attendees are also encouraged to participate in live, anonymous polling.

Where is the program being held?
This program is a live, online webinar.

MCLE Credits
1.25 practical skills/general MCLE credits have been approved by the Oregon State Bar.

Can’t Attend?
Video and audio recordings will be available to download along with the program materials shortly after the live program event.  Price: $25. Contact me or visit my online CLE store to place an order.

Obstacles to Improving Workflow


I asked this question during the recent CLE, Best Practices for Client Intake, Engagement, and Workflow.  You may be interested in the results:

For those who don’t have the time

This is a hard one, and I get it. But nothing will change unless you make the time.

I don’t have a magic solution for adding a 25th hour to the day. I do know that if something is important enough, we make room for it. So if you’re motivated, start by looking for time on your schedule. Find two one-hour blocks, whether they are close in time or a month apart. Schedule appointments with yourself. Mark the subjects “Workflow:brainstorm” and “Workflow:prioritize.” Commit to making the first time block outside the office. Leave your smartphone and other devices behind. Grab a legal pad, a pen or pencil, and go. Visit your favorite coffee shop or sit in the park.

Brainstorm

During the first time block, make a list of all the functions in your office that you’d like to improve. Dream small: “I wish saving email to the client’s file was easier,” or dream big: “We need a better conflict system.” Don’t rule anything out. Just let the ideas come and go until the hour is up.

prioritize

Your goal during the second time block is to prioritize. This can happen in your office IF you commit to working distraction-free. This means no phones, no checking email, no interruptions by others. You are in an appointment, albeit with yourself. If the temptations are too great, leave. As before, don’t bring devices.

Pull out the list of ideas from your brainstorming session and start marking what is most important: first, second, third, and so on. If you’re in your office, type up the list. If you’re out and about, take a moment when you get back to do so.

Investigate

Schedule another one hour appointment on your calendar. This third time block will be devoted to investigating options for the number one priority on your list. Google is your friend. Look for online reviews from neutral, authoritative sources. The ABA Legal Technology Resource Center is a good starting point. Check out blog posts that come up in search results. Ask colleagues by posting to a listserv. If you have an IT person, get their input. Ask staff. Depending on how complicated your first priority is, you make have to block out more time for this step. However, there are definitely some small-scale functions that you can reasonably investigate in an hour’s time.

Keep going: implement and master

Sticking with your number one priority, make a decision on which option you want to pursue. Schedule out more appointments on your calendar to implement the option. Then wait. Live with your new technology or process a while. Be prepared to make adjustments. When you are comfortable and feel you have mastered the new workflow, move on to priority number two and repeat the steps above. My point: you can find the time and you can make the time. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.

Procrastination

We sometimes procrastinate about improvements we know we should make because we feel overwhelmed or have trouble accepting change. Hopefully the approach outlined above will help you overcome these concerns. If after the brainstorming session you are worried that your priority list has nothing but large-scale items, consider reaching out for expertise. Ask colleagues for referrals to IT or other consultants. Consider using the practice management team at the OSB Professional Liability Fund. You don’t need to do it all, and you don’t need to do it alone. There is help. It may be that you would benefit by blocking out time for a second brainstorming session. Use this appointment to identify three things that are important to you that you can realistically accomplish in the next twelve months. Save your original list, but table it for now.

The Payoff

You can do this. Remember, if you are overwhelmed pick the top three things you know can be accomplished in the next twelve months. Save your other ideas, but table them for now.

Stay motivated! Improving workflows will make your life easier by eliminating unnecessary, repetitive steps. This will reduce your stress and free up more time. Who doesn’t want that? And with three or more successes under your belt, I know you’ll want to keep going.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis