Year-end planning: Collect Data about Your Clients

Year-end planning: Focus on current clientsFocus on your current clients

Part 2: Tips for year-end planning 

Year-end planning tips. 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. Area #2 – focus on current clients.

The last weeks of the year tend to be slow for getting new cases, so use this time to focus on your current clients – your source of income for the first part of 2017.

  • Pick out your 5-10 best clients from 2016. First, define what a best client looks like:
    • Maybe these are the clients that always paid on time.
    • Maybe they always provided you with and returned documents on time.
    • Maybe they referred you other good clients.
    • Maybe they were just genuinely nice people to work with.

Look through your client list and start rating your clients from 2016.

Tip: You need a way to capture this client rating system in your database so you can develop reports on your rated clients. Your law practice management software should have the ability to setup custom fields. These are a great tool for capturing this data. When you produce the report and are able to separate where your revenue for 2016 came from, you will probably see that 80% of your revenue came from these best clients. But without capturing this data – you will never know.

After looking at your list of “A” rated clients, pick up the phone and call them. Let them know they were/are one of your best clients and you enjoyed working with them. If appropriate, offer to take them out to breakfast in January and set up your first business development meeting for 2017. Also, keep this list in a place where you can review it every week and continually ask yourself “How can I get more clients like these?”

Current Clients are a Potential Source of Income for 2017

For your current clients, who are your source of income for the next few months, do something memorable when sending out their December invoice. Prepare a case summary, outlining and highlighting tasks completed, milestones reached and any upcoming dates and deadlines. This is a way to remind them of the work you have done on their behalf and may make paying the bill a bit easier.

Tip: For estate planning clients, the holidays are the time of year when children are getting engaged and they will have the need to update their estate planning documents. Using your nicely organized client database, run a list of estate planning clients who have children around the age of getting married. In their letters, include a note about your services for young couples.

Is your database not that well organized? Well then, you have a new goal for 2017: start capturing more data about your clients so you can make better strategic decisions. CPN Legal can help you set up processes to capture more data. Give us a call if you’d like to discuss this and prepare for a great start in 2017 for your business.


 

Peggy and Chris Gruenke are co-owners 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, where she heads the technology committee and is vice-chair of the national conference committee. Follow her on Twitter @PeggyGruenke.

5 Checklists to add efficiency to your practice

Originally published in Attorney at Work

checkmark-fbProcesses are the means by which we get things done and checklists are a great tool for helping you get these processes completed. Within your business, there are many things which you do repeatedly. The purpose of documenting what you do is to make sure it gets done correctly, improve upon it and do it more efficiently. That’s why pilots, surgeons, and astronauts use them extensively. For solos, creating these simple checklists helps you stay on top of what needs to get done without worrying that you forgot something important.

When you set-up a new client file, file a bankruptcy, or end a case, you do so using processes, which are most likely in your head and may not be well documented. So let’s get some of these processes out of your head and on paper (or use one of the handy checklist apps)!

Conflict-Checking

To help avoid a potential malpractice claim. To effectively analyze conflicts, you need to have in place a conflict-checking procedure. The ethics rules in some jurisdictions require law firms to maintain a conflict checking system and to have a policy in place.

For solos, I think setting up a simple Conflict Checking Checklist and documenting you used it is a sufficient process to have in place. Even in very small or solo firms, you should not rely on your memory to determine whether you have a conflict. Detecting a conflict after the representation has started may harm the client and your reputation. Plus, it creates extra work – like having to refund that retainer payment you already deposited.

Below is a sample checklist created using Evernote. Of course, you could choose to add more details, such as the location of the files to be searched, will you search open as well as closed files, and what will be searched: emails, the document server, and/or the contact database.

Checklist for conflict checking 2015 

New Client File Setup

A process, hopefully, you perform on a very regular basis. Quite frankly, it is very administrative and can be time-consuming. So grab your pencil and start writing down, step-by-step, how you step up a new client file. Then flush it out, re-write it and lastly, commit it to paper by creating the checklist. This way you’ll be ready to delegate this administrative task as soon as you can afford to do so.

Receiving a Retainer

Every lawyer knows mismanaging a trust account (IOLTA) can have terrible consequences. So creating a checklist to ensure you are properly depositing a retainer is a good idea. And in this article “Would You Pass a Trust Account Audit”,  I review in more detail the trust accounting process. For this checklist, let’s make sure you are processing that initial receipt of retainer correctly.

 Checklist for conflict checking

Month-end Accounting

To keep your eyes on the business side of your practice. This process will include some of the below steps:

  • Make sure all monthly expenses and payments received have been recorded
  • Reconcile your operating and trust accounts
  • Sign-off on reconciled reports (especially trust if you have delegated this task to someone else)
  • Review key financial and performance metrics
  • Monthly and YTD Profit and Loss reports (did you make money?)
  • Past Due invoices
  • IOLTA Balances by Client
  • Number of new clients/matters this month
  • Update cash flow analysis spreadsheet
  • Give yourself a raise!

Closing a Matter

For keeping in compliance with client documents retention rules. Another frequently occurring task – you complete a case. Then what? They are rules you need to follow and things you’ll want to do when closing a matter. Such as:

  • Advising client the case is complete and any next steps on their part
  • Retaining client documents for the required time period
  • Returning original documents to the client
  • Asking for referrals and repeat business (ask your client to leave a review on one of your online profile sites)
  • Reminding the client they still owe you money

Bonus: Advantages of creating these checklists are:

  • They become a risk management tool and you now have the start of a risk management policy manual (which malpractice insurers love)
  • You will save time
  • It will lead to better ways of getting things done
  • You are building the foundation for growing your practice
  • You’ll sleep better knowing these things are consistently done right

 

 

 

 

Lawyers, do you have a game plan for your business?

Nicole at NAL

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have a daughter that for the last 16 years has been in the equestrian world of show jumping. My husband and I have great respect for her ability to enter the show ring always having a plan for how she will ride the course. In show jumping, your goal is to complete the designed course, which consists of a number of jumps or obstacles, in the fastest time, staying on course and without knocking down any rails. It requires a clear vision, a plan, and a strategy with the ability to execute and adjust when things go awry and still complete the course. Before she goes into the ring to compete, she has evaluated the competition, the course and the best path to ride. Simply put: she and her horse have a game plan.

So how well are you doing with your plan to grow and manage your law practice?

Whether a solo, an associate or a partner within a firm, you have to always have that mindset of being a business owner. A partner today may be a solo tomorrow. To grow your business, you have to focus on how to get business, deliver services, get paid and make money. This focus leads to developing clarity around what you do and how you ride the course.

While most lawyers want to have more business and grow, it is amazing how many I talk to that have not taken the time to develop even a simple business plan. As a result, the business is without a focused direction or clear strategy. And businesses without clarity about what they do, will not be as successful as a business with a game plan. Just like a rider going into the show ring without a vision and strategy will most likely fail at completing the course.

So, much like our daughter preparing for the show ring, the answer to questions like “How can I get more clients?” or “How can I find better clients?” or “Am I profitable?” begin with having a game plan. In the business world, these components are cleverly disguised as a business plan. Do you have one? A great business plan is not some pie-in-the-sky document full of impressive prose. A business plan can be as simple as a one-page document outlining the actions you will take to be successful. The key is does it provide clarity and serve as a guide for future actions and decisions.

You see, the trouble with most business plans and the reason people don’t want to create one is they are often written for someone else – a banker, an investor, or a potential partner. Instead, I say write it for yourself. It’s your chance to think through the challenges you are facing and commit to a plan of action. Form doesn’t matter.

This short article is not here to tell you how to write a business plan, but instead, to get you thinking about how clear or unclear your own business strategy may be. Maybe the end result will be that you decide to develop a game plan to help guide your business on a course for growth.

Whether just starting out or if you have been practicing for a few years, why write down your game plan? Continue reading