Category: Lawyer Assistance

BillingBusiness PlanningClient relationsGeneralLaw Practice Management

Economics of Law Practice

image   by Sheila Blackford   ©2016   Another law school year is drawing to a close. 3Ls are looking anxiously in the career center for lists of law firm recruiters and scheduled interviews.  “What is their billable hour requirement?”  1,800 hours? 2,100 hours? 

Wait a minute.  How many hours do you have to work in order to bill that many hours? A typical work week is 40 hours a week. 52 weeks in a year. 40 x 52 = 2,080 hours. What about vacation time? Holidays off? How can you have New Year’s Day, Marin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas or Winter Holiday. And what about two weeks off to go skiing or camping, or to Disneyland with the kids?

New associates churn the hours and come back late at night to get more billable hours clocked for the month.  “Have I met the quota? Have I hit the bonus level?”

Wait a minute. Billables are measured in hours. The pressure to bill hours in six-minute increments leads to logging six minutes but speeding to actually spend four minutes which starts to add up. For example, 60 minutes in an hour, 480 minutes in eight hours billed but in actual time of four minutes worked for six minutes billed would be 40 minutes or 320 minutes worked to generate 480 minutes billed. I know it sounds far-fetched, because we’d usually work on a client matter for 30 minutes and Bill .5 hours. I’m talking about those quick little client tasks, calling and leaving a voice mail message, reading a court notice, spending a quick email.

Senior partners call associates in and tell them their collectible rate is abysmal and their billables again needed to be written down significantly. “Improvement is mandatory or your future at this firm is unlikely.” 

Wait a minute. Collectibles are measured in dollars. The senior partner isn’t reluctant to alienate a client with a bill that looks inflated. So hours are written down to match client budgets or the senior lawyer’s awareness of how longish reasonable to spend on preparing a client letter versus a pleading. And then that $1,000 bill goes to the client who may pick up the phone to announce he isn’t paying a dime above $950. So another $50 is written off. The client pays the $950. The associate is dismayed to learn that his six hours billed turned into four hours collected. When he stops to consider he skipped lunch and spent ten hours in the office, things are looking grim. Let’s look at these numbers as ratios.  The lawyer worked ten hours, billed for six hours, and collected for four hours. 10:6 billable ratio means he works 1.67 hours for every hour billed. 10:4 collectible ratio means he works 2.5 hours for every hour collected.

Some firms pay the associate a salary and pay a bonus for meeting bonus objectives. What is the bonus based on? The associate isn’t home free. The salary is based on meeting the billable rate. So if you’re not meeting that billable rate, you will likely not last long. It has been said that it takes three years for a law firm to begin making money on an associate. That may be true, but looking up the bar number of the associates at a firm that typically hires three newly admitted lawyers a year, may reveal that maybe one of the three is around for year two. It looks like more firms are quick to cut their losses on an unpromising associate.

Some small firms may try to get a little too clever with compensation programs and run afoul of wage and hour claims by trying to dock a salary in a month following low billable hour achievement. Or trying to play fast and loose with categorizing the associate an independent contractor instead of an salaried employee.

There are federal and state indicia of employment status of a contractor versus an employee. Law firm employers need to be careful and consult with an employment lawyer if any questions. Associates need to be careful and ask questions about expectations about billables and collectibles. And if they have questions, they too may want to consult an employment lawyer.

 

Business PlanningEthicsLaw Practice ManagementLawyer AssistanceProfessionalism

The Gift of Time

 

image    by Sheila Blackford   ©2015   The 2015 holiday season is in full swing. This time of year, many lawyers question if they should leave their law firm and go solo or start up their own multi-attorney firm or just hang it up and retire or switch careers. These are all things that are best to think about. I just question whether this might not be the best time to be making such life changing decisions. It’s a bit like deciding whether to get a divorce. Good to consider but with the stress of the holidays and busy pace of visiting family and friends, this may not be the time when you can do your best thinking. Can you give yourself the gift of time?  Why, you ask? To give yourself time to consult with a good lawyer: yourself.

Take the time to think things through.

  • Can you see where this decision leads?
  • Do you need to sit down with a financial advisor to crunch numbers?
  • What about covering health insurance for you and any family members?
  • What practical considerations are needed in place to help you in the first six-month transition period?
  • Do you have the stomach for flying solo or weathering difficult relationship issues involving sharing control and maintaining trust?
  • If employees will be involved, do you have all the human resources areas taken care of before you create a BOLI complaint or lawsuit?
  • Do you need to sit down with a CPA and your tax returns and financial projections to determine your right choice of entity?
  • Should you and your prospective law partners do Myers Briggs, Strengthfinders, or some other psychological testing to determine if you really will bring compatibility and balance to the planning table?

Know your resources.

Oregon State Bar Economic Survey.

Oregon Attorney Assistance Program Attorney Counselors. For assistance with career planning and counseling.  503-226-1057  or 1-800-321-6227

  1. Shari Gregory, LCSW, JD on Ext. 14.
  2. Kyra Hazilla, JD, MSW on Ext. 13.
  3. Mike Long, JD, MSW, CEAP on Ext. 11.
  4. Douglas Querin, JD,LPC, CADCI on Ext.  12.
  5. Bryan Welch, JD counseling intern on Ext. 19.

Oregon State Bar General Counsel’s Office for assistance with ethics questions arising in the practice of  law. 503-620-0222 or 1-800-452-8260

  1. Helen Hierschbiel, General Counsel on Ext. 361. Will become Executive Director of OSB January 2016.
  2. Amber Hollister, Deputy General Counsel on Ext. 312. Will become General Counsel of OSB January 2016.

Oregon State Bar Client Assistance Office for assistance with initial screening of ethics complaints about lawyer conduct. 503-620-0222 or 1-800-452-8260

PLF Attorney Practice Management Advisors for assistance with the business of practicing law, including closing a law practice, departing from a  law firm, retiring or selling a law practice, or opening a new law practice.  503-639-6911 or 1-800-452-1639

  1. Sheila Blackford, JD on Ext. 421.
  2. Hong Dao,  JD on Ext. 412.
  3. Jennifer Meisberger, JD on Ext. 411.
  4. Beverly Michaelis, JD on Ext. 415.

PLF Claims Attorneys for assistance with handling situations where there is a concern of a potential malpractice claim. The receptionist will connect you to an available claims attorney.  503-639-6911 or 1-800-452-1639

PLF Practice Aids and Forms

 

Lawyer AssistanceSuicide Prevention

An Untimely Death – Preventable

JEL23652-Blackford, Sheila P3 (2)   by Sheila Blackford   ©2011   Do you realize how many times suicide is the cause of the “untimely death” of many lawyers? It is preventable. It is unpleasant and scary to admit there is a concern.

Here are some signs of impairment that can help alert you that someone you know may be at risk.

• Not returning phone calls to clients and opposing counsel.
• Not available when clients or opposing counsel attempt to reach lawyer at the office.
• The voicemail has a message that says it is full.
• The lawyer doesn’t follow through in delivering work product, answers, or return calls as promised.
• Contact with the lawyer leaves impression of distractibility, difficulty tracking conversation, or other indications of cognitive difficulty such as slurred or halting speech.
• Lawyer may be abusing alcohol or drugs and now exhibits disheveled appearance or poor personal hygiene, alcohol on breath or exuded from pores.
• Lawyer’s behavior has changed dramatically. Edginess, agitation, hair-trigger angry outbursts are often dismissed as “just having a bad time lately.”
• The lawyer seems to disappear for periods of time that is unexplained.
• The lawyer has missed deadlines and court appearances.
• The lawyer’s personal finances are in bad shape: loans and credit cards and other accounts in collections and is dodging evictions.
• The lawyer, if working for a firm, is in trouble for chronic absenteeism or “flakiness” or has recently been fired or subject to an abrupt “mutual parting of the ways.”
• The lawyer has recently moved to an executive office suite or virtual office but is never there when you check with the receptionist.
• There may be multiple “attempted delivery” tags taped to the door or a pile of mail can be seen through the mail slot in the door.
• The lawyer doesn’t come to the door though you can hear sounds of someone in the office.
• The lawyer begins to vanish or self isolate a few months before he or she finally commits suicide.
Resources:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
ABA Commission of Lawyers Assistance Programs (CoLAP)
Directory of State Lawyer Assistance Programs
For further information, I highly recommend you download and listen to the following provided as a free service to ABA members. What Lawyers Need to Know About Suicide During a Recession: Prevention, Identity and Law Firm Responsibility (Free MP3 Audio Download)Co-sponsored by the ABA Commission of Lawyer Assistance Programs.