Category: Ethics

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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 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!

 

 

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Where are your go to resources?

JEL23652-Blackford, Sheila P3 (2)   by Sheila Blackford   ©2012

What is the best trust accounting software I should adopt for my firm?
When should I run a conflicts search?
How long I should keep closed client files – if my client has a copy already?
Where should I open my office to get more business?
Which networking events may be helpful to me as a new attorney?
Who can help me figure out what I need to do to open my own office?

These are all questions that get asked over and over by lawyers. The big question behind all of them is one: where are your go to resources? Today, I’d like to tell you about where you can find a variety of valuable of go to resources.

Ask a Practice Management Advisor
I work for the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund as a practice management advisor. If you are an Oregon lawyer or member of an Oregon lawyer’s firm, then you know the PLF is the mandatory malpractice insurance carrier for the basic coverage required of Oregon lawyers in private practice. If you are not an Oregon attorney, you may have a practice management advisor associated with your state bar association. To see a list of practice management advisors in North American, see here ABA Law Practice Management Section Practice Management Advisors/State & Local Bar Outreach Committee. Call your practice management advisor! We are a resource to getting you the answers to your questions.

Practice Aids & Forms
What you may not realize is that the PLF has a huge variety of free practice aids and forms that can be downloaded from www.osbplf.org. See Loss Prevention on the menu and select the last item, practice aids and forms. Download all of them in Word or WordPerfect and you can customize them. You find a variety of checklists to help you to tackle various substantive practice areas – adoptions to workers’ compensation– plus topics that cut across all practice areas like conflicts of interest, calendaring and docketing, engagement, nonengagement, disengagement, file management, opening your law office, closing your law office, trust accounting, and technology. Lawyers are surprised by the number of practice aids and forms that are available.

Publications
You want to open your own law office? The PLF has free guides which you can download in PDF format from the PLF website, on the menu under Loss Prevention, select Books from the PLF: A Guide to Setting Up & Running Your Law Office, A Guide to Setting Up & Managing Your Lawyer Trust Account, Planning Ahead: A Guide to Protecting Your Clients’ Interests in the Event of Your Disability or Death, and Oregon Statutory Time Limitations Handbook.

Books from the OSB: BarBooks is a resource you simply must take advantage of because you are entitled to free access to excellent books specific to your desired practice area, such as the helpful five volume Advising Oregon Businesses. If you want to look at what publications the OSB offers, see the Legal Publications Catalog. Don’t overlook valuable publications that are associated with CLEs.

CLE Seminars
You want to learn about practicing in different areas?
CLEs from the PLF:You can find CLEs geared to avoiding malpractice traps in family law or how to set up a conflict system or handling your trust account or improving your understanding of financial considerations about managing your law office plus a great variety of other practice management at the PLF. See PLF website then on menu under Loss Prevention select CLE to review on-demand programs, access programs available on DVD of a CLE you might have missed and download the CLE’s handouts, or learn about an upcoming in-person CLE.

CLEs from the OSB:You can find CLEs specific to your desired practice area plus other CLEs – find out what CLEs are available in a variety of formats, QuickCalls, CLE On Demand learn about upcoming live seminars you can attend in person or by webinar by accessing the OSB CLE and Seminars catalog at OSBCLE.org.

CLEs from the Oregon Law Institute (OLI):You can find CLE offerings that fit your needs at OLI. Don’t overlook the OLI resources, whether in person seminars, webinars, MP3 courses, or review their product catalog.

American Bar Law Practice Management Section CLEs: The LPM Section offers CLEs produced by the American Law Institute (ALI). You do not have to be a member of the ABA LPM Section, though you may want to join. See information about the LPM CLEs here.