Learn how to talk to clients about money, incentivize clients to pay, collect accounts receivable, and modernize billing and payment practices. Join me on Wednesday, October 2 for “Getting Paid.” 1.25 OSB MCLE Practical Skills credits approved. Designed for lawyers, legal staff, and office administrators – anyone interested in improving billing and collection practices.
Identifying your fee strategy
Ensuring the client is invested in the case
Documenting and reinforcing fee discussions
Exploring the advantages of automated billing systems
Using billing descriptions clients understand
Making it easy for clients to pay
Sourcing the latest options in credit card processing and click-to-pay invoicing
Unbundling services to meet marketplace demands
Offering hybrid fee agreements
Getting practical about collection
When & Where: Wednesday, October 2 2019 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. Pacific Time. This is a live, online webinar.
Group Discounts: Available to firms who wish to register 5 or more attendees. Contact me for more information.
Participate in Polling & Ask Questions: Questions are welcome during the live event. Attendees are also encouraged to participate in live, anonymous polling.
How to Register
Click here, choose the image above, or visit the Upcoming CLE page. Secure payment processing powered by Eventbrite. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted. Program materials included in the $25 registration price.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The new OSB 2017 Economic Survey is available for download. In it, you’ll find a plethora of information about Oregon lawyers, including employment characteristics, compensation, billing practices, career satisfaction, and future plans. Here are a few highlights:
28.3% of survey respondents reported being a member of at least one other state bar.
86.1% reported working as an Oregon lawyer; 13.9% were not.
Lawyers who chose to work part-time did so to maintain work/family balance, pursue other career interests, or because they were semi-retired.
Slightly more than 60% of working Oregon lawyers reported being in private practice, with just under 20% in government positions.
The most dominant areas of private practice are business/corporate (transactional and litigation), civil litigation (plaintiff and defense), tax/estate planning, family law, and real estate/land use/environmental.
The most common practice size was a 1 lawyer office, followed by 3-6 lawyer offices, and 7-20 lawyer offices.
The statewide mean compensation was $143,277.
The amount of compensation was highest in the Portland metro area and lowest on the Oregon coast.
The highest paying area of practice was real estate/land use/environmental.
Statewide, female lawyers reported earning less than male lawyers.
Peak earning years were 50-59, with compensation generally decreasing after age 60.
Statewide, the mean hourly rate was $286, ranging from $226 to $324 regionally. (The highest reported hourly rate was $850 in Portland.)
By area of practice, the highest hourly rate was for business/corporate – litigation, with a mean of $333. Other top billing areas were: real estate/land use/environmental, civil litigation – defendant (excluding insurance defense), and business/corporate – transactional.
On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being very dissatisfied and 5 being very satisfied, lawyers statewide had a mean career satisfaction rate of 3.98. In general, the more years in practice, the greater a lawyer’s satisfaction with his/her career.
By location, employment, and area of practice, the most satisfied lawyers were:
In the Upper Willamette Valley
Working as judges or hearing officers
Practicing in civil litigation defense, real estate/land use/environmental, or criminal law (private bar).
19.2% of lawyers statewide reported they were planning or contemplating retirement.
6.7% were planning to leave the profession, but not retire.
Another 10.3% were planning to reduce their practices.
If appropriate, establish a payment plan (and get it in writing)
If no payment is received, follow-up with a letter
If the account remains unpaid, call again and send a second letter
Consider further collection options
This is a good start. Read the full post here. It includes good tips on setting up a payment plan and a nice discussion on realization rates (how much you actually collect vs. what you bill).
More Steps to Improve Collections
In addition to the recommendations above, follow this 7-step “do” list:
Use written fee agreements. Going without just isn’t an option. A fee agreement offers another claim for relief if you decide to sue (breach of contract), and it’s practically impossible to prevail in fee arbitration without one.
Be consistent – both in the terms of your fee agreement and in your billing practices. It is far easier to stay on top of who owes you what when you follow a consistent pattern. For example – all invoices are payable within 30 days and you reliably bill on the 25th of each month. If you take billing seriously, clients will take billing seriously. Sporadic invoices send a message, but it isn’t a good one, and clients don’t appreciate the sticker shock that comes with pushing March’s billing cycle into April.
Communicate! The onus is on you to ensure that clients truly understand what, when, where, how, and why you bill. Devote time to discussing fees, costs, and billing procedures during the initial client interview.
Carefully monitor accounts receivable (A/R). Run reports each month so you know who is paying on time and who isn’t.
Create a collection procedure you can automatically step into when an account becomes overdue. Follow the list offered by NW Sidebar or create your own. For example, you may prefer to send a reminder billing as your first step. This would consist of rebilling your original invoice – now overdue – and including a reminder note. If payment is not received within 10 days after the reminder is sent, then call the client.
For partners, annual business planning is likely to be more about reflection: now that I’m an experienced lawyer with a book of business at XYZ Law Firm what do I want to do? If the answer is: make a lateral move, creating a business plan will likely be required. If the answer is: something else entirely, then time spent reflecting and planning will help you ferret that out.
Why Lawyers Don’t Write Business Plans
Aside from the obvious excuse that creating a business plan is time consuming, you may also perceive it as too difficult.
But there is an even better reason not to write a business plan. If you don’t put specific goals and objectives on paper you can’t fail.
Here’s What You’re Really Missing Out On
The problem with avoiding failure is that you also set yourself up not to succeed. And you miss out on the other benefits that go along with creating a business plan.
Create a Direction and Lower Your Stress
When you know what you want to do, where you want to go, and how you’re going to get there (the specific objectives included in your plan), it lowers your stress level. There is no more floundering or misdirection. Having a plan means you’re back in control.
Doing What You Want to Do For People You Want to Work For Means Reduced Exposure to Liability and Ethics Complaints
There’s a huge difference between practicing door law because you’ve always done it versus purposefully choosing a niche.
The door law route exposes you to greater risk of malpractice claims and ethics complaints. Keeping up with a few areas of law is hard enough. Trying to keep up with five or ten is bordering on ridiculous.
Imagine instead that you are working in one area, or a handful of areas, that you know well or can master. With a focus, you can target clients deliberately and work for a client base that you truly want to represent.
You’ll Also See Gains in Efficiency, Money, and Resources
You are a resource. Your staff is a resource. Spend your resources on meaningful, designed goals. This is what creates efficiency. And with efficiency you can’t help but save money. Or at a minimum, experience a better return on your investment. You know it, you can see it, you can measure it.
Business Plan Checklist and Resources
If I’ve convinced you, contact me. I’m happy to send along my business plan checklist and a list of resources for creating a plan. Do what you want to do. I am.