Time Off and Avoiding Burnout

Feeling weary, fatigued, overwhelmed, or stressed?  Working continually without rest or relaxation leads to burnout.  And it takes more than the occasional three-day weekend for your mind and body to recuperate.

This is my annual reminder to get serious. Build vacation plans into your work schedule now – no excuses!  It will take a bit of effort and planning, but your body and mind will thank you.

I Can’t Afford It

2013-07-26 08.04.33“If I’m not at the office, I can’t bill.  If I can’t bill, I won’t get paid.”  True enough, but there is a solution:  budget for your vacation.  A bit of research and number crunching is in order here. First, calculate your vacation expenses. This should be relatively easy.  Next, quantify the lost revenue you need to replace during your time out of the office.  Now that you know how much you need, begin setting aside funds every week to meet your financial goal.  If necessary, find little ways to cut back that can really add up: like bringing your lunch to work, deferring your daily Starbucks fix, using public transportation, or telecommuting.  Saving weekly will keep you on track and help manage expectations. If you’re just getting started, then your plans this year may be more modest.  Next year, you can begin saving for your summer vacation in January.

I’m Too Busy

2013-12-23 20.09.48Work will never go away, but I guarantee that if you look ahead in your calendar you will find a block of time with no commitments.  Even if you haven’t made plans yet, block the time out now before your calendar fills up.  If you have a habit of backsliding, enlist your family as enforcers.  This time should be sacred.  If you need an extra incentive, consider non-refundable travel reservations.

Preparation is Key

If you’re a member of a firm, going on vacation is a matter of meeting with other lawyers who will be covering cases during your absence.

If you are a sole practitioner, use the buddy system.  Find a colleague who is experienced in your practice area and willing to cover for you.

This arrangement is usually reciprocal and is helpful if you have an unexpected absence from the office due to injury or a medical condition.

Get a game plan in place:

  • 2013-07-24 17.03.57Notify clients, opposing counsel, judges, or other appropriate parties that you will be out of the office;
  • Prep your files.  They should be well-organized and current, with status memos so your buddy can easily step in if needed;
  • Create a “Countdown Schedule.”  Identify what needs to be done when and whether certain tasks can wait until your return;
  • Allow for wind down.  As your vacation approaches, leave time in your schedule to finish up last minute work.  Reduce or refer out new matters;
  • Train staff.  Do they have a clear understanding of office procedures?  How will they screen client calls during your absence?  Give them parameters for contacting you or your buddy in the event of an emergency.
  • Resist constantly checking voice mail, e-mail, or text messages.  Technology is a God-send, but part of rejuvenation is taking a break from our instant Internet society. Checking in is okay, but stick to a schedule to avoid obsessing over what is going on back at the office.  Remember – you have an emergency plan in place.  If something happens, staff or your buddy will get a hold of you.
  • Avoid post-vacation overload.  Just as you blocked out dates to go on vacation, allow yourself time to get back up-to-speed.  Otherwise, you’re right back where you started.

Give yourself and your family a well-deserved break.  With a bit of organization, you can budget for (and enjoy) your time off.

All Rights Reserved 2017 Beverly Michaelis

eChecks and eCourt

The most recent issue of the Capitol Insider reminded bar members that OJD eFiling now accepts electronic checks (eChecks) as a payment method.  You can setup an eCheck account at the OJD HTML 5 eFiling Site.  (If you’re still using the “Silverlight” version of OJD eFiling go here.)

What are eChecks?

The term “eCheck” attempts to lend a familiar name to a new(er) process, but the descriptor also leads to confusion.  

What eChecks are not

  • eChecks are not “checks” in the traditional sense. 
  • They require no special setup.
  • There is no cost to using eChecks.
  • You don’t have to visit your bank to start using eChecks.

What eChecks Are

  • A way to send electronic payments directly from your bank account.
  • Equivalent to electronic transfers or ACH payments.
  • Used by merchants like PayPal.

What do I need to know to pay by eCheck?

If you have a bank account and know your routing and account numbers, you can pay by eCheck.

HOW QUICKLY DO ECHECK TRANSACTIONS CLEAR MY BANK?

eCheck payments generally clear within 24-48 hours.

Are there any advantages to using eChecks?

Yes!

  • The May issue of the Capitol Insider reports that using eChecks will “keep costs down and limit future increases in filing fees.” This makes sense because eChecks eliminate credit card processing fees. Paying by eCheck is free to both parties – the payor/eFiler and the payee/OJD. It is a bank-to-bank transaction.
  • Bookkeeping will be simpler for OSB eFilers. Paying eFiling fees by credit card requires the extra step of reconciling your credit card statement to your eCourt account. And there is also the matter of billing. Even if you bill or post a filing fee expense to your client’s account when it is incurred, this only improves the timing of your reimbursement – it doesn’t shorten the accounting steps.
  • You now have the flexibility to easily use your trust account as a source of paying filing fees. (A debit card tied to your trust account is also permissible, but be sure to take proper steps to protect client funds.)
  • Lawyers who don’t have credit cards won’t be forced to get one just to use the OJD eFiling system.
  • Lawyers who can’t get credit cards will no longer be penalized.
  • Firms won’t have to set up special reminders to renew or update credit card information in OJD eFiling accounts, since routing and bank account numbers never expire. Do remember to update your payment information if you change banks!

Do you currently have a debit or credit card dedicated to paying eCourt filing fees?

If yes, and you make the switch to eChecks, quit using your debit or credit card for eCourt filing fees. This starts the process of closing your account. Verify that all pending transactions have been processed. Reconcile your final card statement, bill clients, then wait an additional month before you direct your bank or processor cancel your account. There should be no more debit or credit activity during this time. Assuming all transactions are accounted for, close your account. Remember to delete your debit or credit card from the OJD eFiling system.

NOTE

If your debit/credit card is used for other purposes beyond paying eCourt fees, ignore this advice.

How do I set up eCheck payments?

Users can create an eCheck payment account under Payment Accounts in FIRM ADMIN. If you need help with this process on the HMTL 5 site, download the Firm Administrator Guide 3.15 available here.  You can also get help with this step from the vendor, Tyler Technologies:

New Terms of Use

With the addition of eChecks as a payment method, the OJD and Tyler Technologies Terms of Use have been updated. View the new TOU here

All Rights Reserved 2017 Beverly Michaelis

Last Call: Ethical Guidelines for Client Files – June 7, 2017 CLE

Don’t miss “Ethical Guidelines for Client Files” on June 7, 2017.  Learn about OSB Formal Ethics Opinions 2016-191 – Client Property: Electronic-Only or “Paperless” Client Documents and 2017-192 – Client Property: Duplication Charges for Client Files, Production or Withholding of Client Files.

What are lawyers required to produce and when?

  • In some cases, lawyer notes and communications must be produced, in other instances they can be withheld: do you know the difference?
  • If you store data in proprietary law office software (e.g. in a docketing or practice management program), must you extract and convert the data for the client?
  • What circumstance might provoke disclosure of “confidential” information belonging to another client?
  • Can you refuse to deliver file material on the grounds that it is too burdensome or expensive to produce?
  • Is it possible to deliver less than the “entire client file” if the client consents?
  • Are you required to produce work product? Conflict information? Time and expense records? Reports about the client’s creditworthiness? Expert witness information? Metadata? Text messages?

Standards governing retention and storage of client files – Is it ethical to store client files electronically? Do any exceptions apply? What duties does a lawyer have when using electronic-only storage?

When to charge for locating, segregating, or duplicating file material – When you can (and can’t) pass costs on to the client, whether client originals can ever be destroyed, and your ethical responsibilities to the “impecunious client.”

Appreciate the difference between ethical duties and discoverability – The interplay of the Oregon Rules of Professional Conduct vs. state and federal rules of civil procedure.

Throughout the program “best practice” tips will be shared.

Date/Time/Location

Wednesday, June 7, 2017 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Pacific Time.  This is a live, online webinar. Watch from your desktop computer or mobile device. Connect to audio via telephone or computer/device speakers.

Who Should Attend?

Lawyers, office managers or administrators, staff – anyone interested in learning more about Oregon’s new formal ethics opinions, 2016-191 and 2017-192.

Does the Program Include Written Materials?

Yes.  Written materials will be distributed electronically to all registered attendees before the event.

Ask Questions/Participate in Live Polling

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

Registration Fee

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

Eventbrite - Ethical Guidelines for Client Files

MCLE Credits
1.5 Ethics MCLE Credits pending.

Can’t Attend?

Video and audio recordings of Ethical Guidelines for Client Files will be available to download along with the program materials following the June 7 CLE. Price: $25. Contact me or visit my online CLE store after June 7.

All Rights Reserved [2017] Beverly Michaelis

Do Good Friends Make Good Partners?

The following is an update of “Thinking about Partnership?”

A potential partnership between lawyers sparks many issues – capitalization; entity formation; allocation of profits, losses, income, and expenses; restrictions on partnership authority; division of management duties; decision-making; withdrawal; and more.

But the most important consideration is often ignored: basic compatibility.

Do good friends make good partners?

Not necessarily. The interests or characteristics that draw two or more people together as friends do not always translate well to the business world.  This includes the practice of law.

Sometimes money gets in the way.  Or you could be polar opposites when it comes to work ethic or work style.

Perhaps you and your potential partner are “two peas in a pod,” sharing the same dislikes. While that may sound like a basis for bonding, it can also be a deadly combination.  The example that comes to mind is accounting.  Billing, recordkeeping, accounting, and reconciling can be outsourced, but should still be supervised.  As partners, the buck stops with you.  If neither of you has an interest in tending to law firm finances, you may quickly find yourself out of business.

How to size up a potential partner

For two lawyers considering a partnership, compatibility can be gauged best by joining forces as solos in an office share.  Each lawyer maintains his or her own practice, following the usual recommendations for an office sharing situation.  See the Professional Liability Fund (PLF) form/practice aid, “Office Sharing Guidelines” available on the PLF Website.  

In an office share you can assess your potential partner’s work ethic, work style, and work habits first hand.  You will also learn how your potential partner approaches division of responsibility and money when the time comes to allocate and pay office share expenses.  You have the option of collaborating on individual cases while maintaining your independence.  This will give you intimate knowledge of your potential partner’s capabilities as a lawyer.

If the office sharing arrangement is successful, and you can come to terms on partnership formation issues, you are likely to have a successful union.  If the office sharing arrangement is not successful, you can accept the experience as a “lesson learned” and terminate the office share without the mess of a formal partnership dissolution.

For those who are convinced they have a winning partnership

Occasionally I meet two lawyers who are absolutely convinced they will form the perfect partnership.  They forge ahead, without the benefit of an office share experience, and later regret their decision.

I don’t wish to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm, and sometimes folks are absolutely right in their assessment.  If you’ve known each other for years, and “just know” it will work please do this simple exercise first:

Schedule a time to get together with your potential partner.  Bring two legal pads and two pens.  Allow ten or fifteen minutes for each person to make a list of the goals he or she has for the partnership.  Each person should be able to answer: what do I hope to get out of this?  How will partnering up be a significant improvement over my current working situation?  Exchange lists.  What you learn may surprise you.

Obviously you can approach this exercise any way you like, but here are my suggested ground rules:

  1. Keep the process as spontaneous as possible. If the exercise is your idea, resist the temptation to work on your list in advance.
  2. Write down the first thoughts that come to mind.  Don’t edit yourself to please your potential partner or you defeat the whole purpose of the exercise.
  3. Keep it succinct.  The next ground rule should help with that.
  4. Stick to the time limit. If one or both of you can’t put your goals down in writing in ten or fifteen minutes, that alone should make you pause.
  5. Be open to whatever the other person has to say.

Why bother?

As a wise man named Lee Rosen once pointed out, “lawyers can be nasty.”  We are, after all, human beings.  If we don’t get along, odds are we will take it out on each other. Finding someone compatible to partner with is incredibly important.  The experience should be positive, rewarding, and gratifying.  Life is too short for anything less.

All Rights Reserved [2017] Beverly Michaelis

 

 

Thanking Clients Should Be Part of Your Closing Ritual

When was the last time you thanked clients for their business?  Asked for their feedback?  Welcomed their referrals?  Invited them to call you with questions or concerns in other areas of your practice?

All of this can and should be part of your file closing ritual. The work may be done, but your client relationship doesn’t have to be.

Your closing letter should cover the essentials, show appreciation, and cross-market your services

  • Inform the client that work is now complete and your representation is over
  • Return original client documents
  • Establish responsibility for current or future tasks
  • Advise the client of your file retention and retrieval policies
  • Answer final questions
  • Thank the client for allowing you to be of service
  • Invite the client to subscribe to your blog, YouTube channel, or social media posts
  • Educate the client about your other areas of practice
  • Let the client know you welcome referrals (see below)
  • Ask the client for his or her feedback (see below)

Send out surveys

A well-designed client survey will give you insight about what you’re doing right and what needs improvement. Increase your chances of getting a timely response by delivering the survey in a format suited to the particular client: paper, fillable PDF, or online via Survey Monkey or a similar service. For a side-by-side comparison of online survey tools, see The Best Online Survey Tools of 2016 from PC Magazine.

Sample Survey Language

The ABC Law Firm is committed to providing high quality service to all of our clients.  To help us achieve that goal, we would like your feedback regarding our services.  Please let us know how we are doing by completing the survey below.  

New to the process?

If you’ve never done a client survey before, spend some time doing a little research. Here’s a great post by Sterling Miller with his patented “ten things” to consider when creating, distributing, and analyzing a client survey.

Like to see a survey in action? Check out this example. Still not clear on what you should ask in your survey? Here is a list of 27 questions to include from Lawyers Mutual. Sample client surveys are also available on the PLF Website.  From the home page, select Practice Management > Forms > Client Relations.

Invite clients back and welcome referrals

If you perceive this as “trolling” for work, I hope you change your mind.  Letting clients know about your other areas of practice or inviting their referrals is perfectly professional:

As you may know, ABC Law Firm provides business, real estate, and land use services to a wide variety of clients.  If you know of anyone in need of legal services, I hope you will keep us in mind. 

Again, I thank you for your business and appreciate the opportunity to work with you.  If I can be of any assistance to you in the future, please do not hesitate to call me at (phone number). 

Automate first, then personalize

Client closing letters are “one more thing to do” in a busy practice.  I get it.  But don’t let them slide: your clients need the information and you need the protection that written disengagement letters offer.

  • Make the process easier by creating forms or templates.
  • If you practice in an area where your clients often have numerous tasks to perform, consider moving those items to an attached checklist.  It will make your letter shorter and the process easier for the client to follow.
  • Start using a file closing checklist. It will remind you to send a closing letter and take you through all the other details that must be tended to when a client file is closed. You can find a sample on the PLF Website.  From the home page, select Practice Management > Forms > File Management.
  • When you are ready to close a file, bring up your boilerplate. Modify it in a two-step process. First, change the form as needed to fit the case. Second, and more critical to your relationship, take the time to personalize your parting words to the client.

Find time to send personalized closing letters by delegating routine file closing tasks to staff, such as reviewing the file for documents that should be added to the firm’s template directories, adding additional names from the file to your conflict system, or entering the file in your closed file inventory.

Make thanking clients part of your everyday

Small gestures can make a big difference in client relationships.  Don’t wait until it’s all over to say “thank you.”   Express appreciation often: after visiting a client’s office or facility, for any kindness the client shows, in your holiday greeting, as part of your open house invitation, or in recognition of a long-standing relationship.  Remember: getting and keeping good clients is substantially easier than courting new ones.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2017