Category: Client relations

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15 Resolutions for a More Rewarding Law Practice in 2015

image  by Sheila Blackford   ©2015

15 resolutions you may want to adopt for your own:

1. Check email in the morning and sort into three folders: Do, Delegate, Delete; you want to use email as a tool not get swallowed up by it.

2. Unless urgent, return calls at 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. daily; you’ll save time batch calling.

3. Have a Work in Process (WIP) meeting Monday mornings for reviewing and updating status of all open matters; you will catch what would otherwise slip through the cracks.

4. Call a different client each day off the clock to check in about how the client is doing; you’ll be rewarded from this simple action.

5. Plan time for a health break daily for a brisk walk, meditation, or yoga session; you’ll perform better if well-balanced.

6. Learn to say “no” to cases that you don’t want to do; your time is a valuable resource to invest wisely.

7. Send a handwritten thank you note when a matter is finished and enclose two business cards; appreciation is contagious.

8.  Monitor your financials: receivables, expenses, profitability; your clients need you to succeed.

9. Dust off your business plan and review quarterly; make it dynamic.

10. Plan regular networking breakfasts with colleagues and potential referral sources; don’t become isolated or overlooked.

11. Pick up the phone if a client is 45 days late in paying the bill; find out if there a problem tobe solved.

12. Use clearly written fee agreements; keep your client relationships positive.

13. Do an office audit to identify any inefficiencies and potential sources of malpractice claims and ethics complaints; call a PMA for help.

14. Focus on improving service to clients and increasing job satisfaction; don’t settle for mediocrity.

15. Create a case timeline, case budget, and scope of representation for clients before beginning work; keep the focus sharp.

BillingClient relationsFinancial ManagementLaw Practice ManagementUncategorized

More About Money: “Don’t Just Ignore the Bills!”

image  by Sheila Blackford   ©2014   I hear solos talking about the client who isn’t paying. Now usually this is a client who fell further and further behind on paying legal bills. Sometimes there was an initial retainer but that is usually long exhausted. The client is now ignoring your bills!

Assuming you feel you cannot “fire this client” for not paying you, I want to you if you have talked to your client about his or her client matter. Did you discuss a realistic appraisal of how long their case would be and how much it might cost based upon what your estimated fees and costs would be?

Communication about the likely expense of legal services is essential before setting forth on a client matter. But you may be saying, “it’s a little late now!” Not so. Sit down and review this client’s bills sent and not paid. How much is owing for how long? How much more fees and costs are likely to be be incurred? Does the client wish to pursue? Can you put your client onto a regular payment plan— such as $50 on the first and $50 on the fifteenth of the month. That is only $100 per month spread over the client’s two paychecks. Can you partially forgive the debt if the client can pay 50%-75% of what is owed to bring it current? Is this a client you are willing and able to help on a pro bono or partial pro bono basis? Can the client borrow money from a relative?

You may decide to do something yourself instead of ignoring your bills. Consider whether you can go forward in this representation. On the PLF website (www.osbplf.org) you’ll find an article, “How to Fire a Client.” See the practice aids and forms category on Disengagement Letters for the article and some sample disengagement letters. You will also see a sample agreement for charging a credit card which can be used for setting up a recurring charge to the client’s credit card in the category on fee agreements and engagement letters, “Fee Agreements: Authorization to Charge Credit Card.”

It is always wise to pick up the phone to check in with you client. If you feel uncomfortable, write out this telephone script and use some variation of it to get this situation resolved. At 45 days past the statement date, call your client and say, “Hello [CLIENT]. I just wanted to know if you got my monthly statement for [MONTH]? Is there some problem with the bill that is preventing you from paying it?” Then discuss your withdrawal, or offer a monthly payment plan or negotiate a settlement of whatever amount is past due. Remember the Oregon State Bar offers arbitration services for fee disputes. The important thing is not to ignore this situation.

BillingClient relationsEthics

Billing Pointers That Can Improve Your Cash Flow

image  by Sheila Blackford   ©2014    Lawyers enjoy practicing law. They rarely enjoying billing. Busy solos especially can find themselves struggling to get their bills out consistentlyby Sheila Blackford.  ©2014 month after month. One lawyer I met with recently discussed that there were a number of clients who weren’t paying their bill, month after month.

Here are some of the tips the lawyer implemented that improved cash flow.

1. Put a date on your billing statement and indicate when payment is due.

If you don’t have a due date on your bill, your client will be motivated to put your bill at the bottom of the stack of bills to be paid. Then next month, the client, repeats organizing bills to be paid by their due date. Again, your bill is moved to the bottom of the stack.

2. If your billing statement is due in 30 days of the billing statement date, consider offering a discount to your client if the bill is paid within 5 days.

People are motived by discounts! Put this to work for you. Be clever and memorable: “10 by the 10th!” Take a 10% discount if amount due is paid by the 10th.

   Age your receivables.

Do you know how old some of your accounts have been on your book? Age your receivables into these age categories:

0 – 30 days (Current)

31-45 days (Late. Call client to see if bill received and why not paid. Payment plan.)

46 days to 60 days (Collect. Contact client about terminating engagement.)

61 days to 90 days (Suspend work. Collection Agency)

91 days to 120 days (Negotiate Settlement such as 50 cents on the dollar.)

over 120 days (Write-off Debt)

Remember to apply client payments first to costs then to legal services, applying to oldest balance first. If you intend to turn your delinquent client accounts over to a collection agency, be sure to indicate this in your fee agreement signed by your client otherwise you are breaching the duty of confidentiality by disclosing this information to a third party. You should let your client know that you will terminate representation if they fall behind on paying their balance as agreed. If you come up to this point, send the client a letter with a copy of a Motion to Withdraw and indicate that you will file it payment of $xxx is not received by a set time on a set date. “Your account is 60 days past due. If 80% of the balance due is not paid by 4:00 p.m. on Aug. 29, 2014, the Motion to Withdraw will be filed with the court.”

4. Consider tracking the client balance  on the billing statement so that client realizes exactly how long you have not been paid.

Some clients are consumed with worrying about their legal problem and lose track of how far behind they have gotten with paying you. Imagine asking your clients if they would show up to work if they weren’t paid?

5. Consider dividing your client list in half and billing one half at mid-month and the other half at month-end.

Many if not all of your clients are paid on a bi-weekly basis. They likely pay their mortgage and rent payment at the first of the month. Some clients may even prefer to be billed bi-weekly. This can be especially helpful for family law clients who are struggling.

6. The easiest way to ensure cash flow is to get cash up front!

Ask for enough of a client retainer to cover the first part of the representation, but more than two months. To avoid running out of the retainer, use provision to have a set balance held in the retainer. This is called an Evergreen Retainer.

My favorite success story reported that by negotiating old client debt, money came into the firm sufficient to cover one month’s expenses! I hope that more of you will find your cash flow improving!