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Year-end planning for lawyers: Your cases

Focus on successPeggy Gruenke | September 2016 | Law Practice Management for Solos

Getting Ready For Year-End: Review Your cases

It’s September and year-end is quickly approaching. All of those good intentions you had in January to organize your law firm will now be put to the test. Before your schedule is consumed with holiday activities and last-minute travel plans, now is a good time to focus on what needs to be done to wrap up the business year and get a head start on 2017. As an attorney and business owner, year-end can become the most stressful time of year. To help you out, we put together this list of four areas on which to focus between now and year-end, while your business may be slower than normal.

  1. Your cases
  2. Your clients
  3. Your finances
  4. Yourself

Your Cases

Like other small businesses, many law firms don’t evaluate their business situation in real time. Either they review their results after they’ve occurred or not at all. Being able to evaluate your cases implies you were collecting data along the way, whether in your law practice management software, using Excel spreadsheets or if you even still use paper. So in our first area of reviewing your cases, here are some questions to get you started:

  • How many new cases have you gotten in 2016, by practice area?
  • What cases were more profitable?
  • Did you hit any home runs – have that one big case?
  • What cases did you enjoy working on the most?
  • What case was your biggest headache?
  • Who referred you the most and best cases?

Asking yourself these questions will help you look back and reveal the some strengths and weaknesses in your business and what may need to be put in place for 2017.

What can you do over the next few months to tidy up your cases for 2016 and start 2017 out on a solid foundation?

  • Run an open matter report and review it to see if any of these cases are complete and have an open balance owed.
    • Close the matters that can be closed. Scan the file, pull out originals you are required to save or return to the client. Then cherish the sound of your shredder. Send letters thanking your client for their business.

TIP: To make this process more efficient, use a task system to track each step and create a document automation process to generate the letters.

  • If the client owes money, remind them in your letter and create a follow-up task to check on payment status during the first week of November.

TIP: Collection tip. If the amount due is beyond 180 days, the chances of collecting 100% of this is slim and none. So go ahead and offer to discount the bill in hope they will pay before year-end. Here is a unique approach to dealing with these aging accounts: in the letter, ask them to send an amount they feel they can afford or represents the value they received.

  • When is it too late to send a closure/end of case/thank you letter? Maybe on your report you see cases you completed 6 months ago and never sent a letter. Is it too late to send the letter? No it is not. I believe it is better late than never. At this time, you can craft the letter as an “end of year check-in with you clients” to let them know you enjoyed working with them and remind them of the services you provide. It’s the holidays and they will be around a lot of friends, neighbors and family and if the conversations turn to needing a lawyer, you can be top on their mind.
  • Review the status of all your active cases. Record notes on each matter in a place you can easily remember. Courts may be closed on or around dates where items are due. Do you have all the court holiday entered in your firm calendar?

TIP: Learn how to use your law practice management software to set up a series of tasks so you can stay on top of these cases.

  • Prioritize your open matters as December approaches you have clarity around which cases need to be worked. This exercise may also reveal that you have too few open cases, which means a dry spell ahead. If that’s the case, you’ll need to spend December getting your marketing and business development in shape for a strong start to 2017.

Another outcome of prioritizing your open cases is getting a sense for which cases you have been avoiding working on, which maybe why they are still hanging out there open. If you are not enjoying a particular type of case or the client, maybe this should be a “check your gut” pause and decide if these cases are where you should be spending your time. The likelihood of you doing your best work is at risk and the likelihood that these are profitable cases is questionable. Refer these cases out and use it as an opportunity to build a good referral relationship with a local lawyer.

Peggy Gruenke is co-owner of CPN-Legal a company whose mission is to help solo and small-firm lawyers build better businesses. Peggy is active in the ABA GPSolo Division. Follow her on Twitter @PeggyGruenke.