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. Continue reading

Back to Basics: 20 Tips to empower your practice

Back to basicsBy Peggy Gruenke and Alan Klevan

There is so much talk about technology in law firms, Alan and I  thought we’d take a step back and focus on some basics skills to improve your practice. Your turbocharged office should NOT be solely turbocharged with technology. So here you go.

Write a simple business plan – for you, not the bank or a potential business partner.

The goal is for you as a business owner to see the big picture and understand exactly who you are, why you’re unique, and who you are equipped to serve. Creating it will help you answer questions like “Do I have a profitable business?” or “Am I making money?” or “Am I spending too much?” or “How can I get more clients?”

Build a budget.

Without a budget you are flying blind. Create some basic financial spreadsheets that help you keep an eye on where you are spending money and how much money is coming in. If clients are paying but bank account remains low, it may be a sign to look more closely at your monthly expenses and cash flow. (Link to my article Mid Year Financial Checkup) Don’t get bogged down in details. It is paralyzing. Starting today, add a column for current month and start entering your expenses and money received. This document will evolve over the months, but at least you now have a place to keep an eye on your business.

Know how much money you need to make each month in order to keep the doors open.

You should know this number by heart. If you don’t know this number, go back to #2 and build your budget. It should be written down where you can see it every day. Put it on your wall or on your computer screen. Put a picture of your family or next vacation spot next to it. Then, everyday write down how much money came in and keep a running total so you can see how close you are to reaching your monthly “need to collect” number. This number is your “monthly nut.” Any amount over that number is your money to take home. Continue reading

One Way to Differentiate Yourself: Create a New Client Packet

Wordle: Welcome
You’ve heard and read many times about the importance of communication and managing client expectations to ensure a successful and profitable engagement. The legal business is essentially relationship based and no relationship survives, let alone thrives, without good communication. The clients may care more about the communication/relationship than your ability or the quality of your work product. So if at that initial client meeting, you can put yourself in their shoes and see the experience through your client’s eyes and anticipate their needs and questions, you are one step ahead of your competitors.

A well designed new client packet can create a client experience that will be memorable, differentiate you from other attorneys in town and build the foundation for a successful and profitable engagement.   A New Client Welcome Package assures your new client is properly welcomed into your practice. In this article, I want to layout items that should be part of a new client welcome packet.

First impressions matter. So invest in getting nice quality folders designed.  On the cover, include your logo, address, website, and phone number. List practice areas on the back of the folder. A welcome package in a folder also provides a place for clients to keep important documents or information throughout the engagement.

Include the following items in your welcome packetContinue reading

If You Give a Client a Cookie, They May Come Back for More

 

In a recent conversation with one of the attorneys about a very needy client,  I was  reminded of the children’s book called If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff. It’s the one where the mouse asks for a cookie, then milk, then a dozen other things which keeps the boy busy all day long taking care of the needs of the mouse. In the book, through a series of cause and effect, the boy listens to the needy mouse and acts upon the requests. In the end, the mouse ends up asking for another cookie and the cycle begins again.

 

As an attorney you have the opportunity to make a client’s engagement memorable, where he may come back for more work, or feeling frustrated and dissatisfied. You invest a lot of time and energy interacting with your clients. Any client is your bank for future work – as a referral source or for cross selling. Clients care as much about communication as they do about ability or the quality of the work product. So demonstrating good active listening skills, and being consistently responsive to clients is essential for client retention. You want to give them a reason to ask for another cookie.

 

Here’s an idea you can easily implement: Get a batch of logo cookies made at a local bakery. Keep them in the freezer, and at your new client meetings, include a wrapped cookie with you new client packet. Let them know you’ll be there to take care of their needs and at the end, you hope they come back for their future legal needs. I am sure you will make a memorable impression on them – enough so that they will tell a few friends.

Please feel free to connect with me on Twitter, Linked In, Facebook

Peggy Gruenke, Chief Operating Officer and Business Development, pgruenke@lawbizcoo.com

More articles available on my blog LawBizCOO.

One simple change to create a WOW factor every day.

Marketing Voice Mail Messages

Everything you choose to do, or not do, has an impact on marketing your business and your client relationships. Here is a simple way to make a memorable impression every day. Have you listened to you voice mail greeting lately? Listen to it. Then have a friend or co-worker listen.  Ask them how they felt after hearing it. Does it leave them feeling energized, disappointed, hopeless, unimportant or confident their message will be treated with the level of importance they expect?

I know client service is an important part of your culture.  It has to be in order for you to be successful. Here are more tips: Marketing Tips for Getting and Keeping Clients. Have you ever thought about the impact a voice mail greeting may have on your clients – current and prospects. I was working the front desk the other day – something as the administrator of the law firm I find very valuable to occasionally do. Sitting there, taking calls, you really get the pulse of the business.  In today’s world, many client calls end up being placed in the attorney’s voicemail.  The clients are OK with leaving a message and I assure them that the attorney or paralegal will follow-up with them in a timely fashion. Then towards the end of the day, I see a pattern being revealed. The clients that called early in the morning are now calling again expressing disappointment and frustration because their attorney has not called back.

So why not build a WOW factor into your voice mail messages?  Rethink your voice mail greeting and make it memorable. Leave them with a WOW moment. I recently changed my greeting to the following:

“Hello, this is Peggy. Thank you for you call today and taking the time to leave a message. It must be important to you and I will certainly treat it as such. Our firm is committed to providing great client service. Please leave a message and I will commit to following up within 24hrs or if I am unable to, someone from the firm will follow-up with you. Have a great day.”

The comments I’ve received were quite positive and genuinely appreciative.  They find it quite refreshing and I am living our culture of great client service with every phone message I receive.

Peggy Gruenke, Chief Operating Officer and Business Development, pgruenke@lawbizcoo.com More articles available on my blog LawBizCOO.

A Cyclist’s Perspective on Fee Agreements

As a cyclist, I truly understand the importance of a well-balanced wheel for ensuring a successful ride.  After completing my recent ride, I thought about the analogy between the smooth bike ride and a successful client engagement. The difference between my smooth rides and not-so-smooth rides can be the condition of the wheels – one loose or out of balance spoke can lead to a bumpy ride or even a ride ending crash. In comparison, the difference between a successful, profitable client engagement and one that is bumpy or ends in a crash can come down to having a well written and executed fee agreement. A fee agreement is a contract which outlines the terms of your business relationship.

There are many resources out there to help you design a fee agreement contract. Having reviewed and helped design a few, I believe incorporating these 8 key elements or spokes into your fee agreement will help you on your way to having a successful and profitable client engagement. As illustrated below, each spoke contributes to the success of the client/attorney engagement.

8 Key Spokes = Fee Agreement Elements:

 fee agreements

1.  Who is the client and what legal services are you providing. Are you representing the company or the individuals in the company? For a probate matter, there can be multiple parties. In this first section, be clear about who you are representing and for what.

2.  You’ve conducted a conflict check and documented the results based on your own internal procedures.  But how will you handle the situation of a conflict arising during representation? You have a duty to notify existing clients of a potential conflict. Spell it out here so the client understands. Great article: Conflict Checking Systems from A to Z by my friend Jim Calloway. Continue reading

Where’s the Money – Managing the Expectation to Get Paid

By Peggy Gruenke, Owner – LawBizCOO

A lawyer’s job is more than offering sound advice or making a persuasive argument. An important role for every lawyer seeking to improve their level of profitability is to manage expectations from intake through getting paid at the conclusion:

        1. Expectations about service;
        2. Expectations about how long it will take;
        3. Expectations about results;
        4. Expectations about cost and getting paid.

#4 is an active process that really is going on behind the scenes during the entire engagement. In my previous blogs, I talked about getting paid on cases using retainers and hourly billing and the importance of communication in these processes.  LawBizCOO 

Today, let’s talk about the clients who are habitual late payers and ask for discounted bills once the bill is beyond 90+ days. One reason you may be in this position is due to the flow of communication being driven by the client rather than you, the lawyer. By not firmly implementing your collection policy throughout the engagement, you have caused your own collection problems. A firm-wide written collection policy will set the stage for getting paid. Including this information in your fee agreement is the way to address the getting paid for your work part of the engagement. (Include link here)

So many times I see a client’s account creeping up to 60 days past due and the attorney assures me they are “good for it”, they will pay. Or “they are a good friend or a friend of a friend who will refer me more business”. The attorney continues to work on the case. Then the next month it’s 90 past due and same responses from the attorney. Now we’re six months into the engagement with no payment. You have clearly sent the message to the client that it’s OK not to pay you for the legal work you are doing on their behalf. Keep in mind, clients respect working with lawyers who have a good business sense and firmly adhere to the guidelines set in the initial client meeting. And as a small business owner, getting paid is an integral part of your business.

Clients who get no pressure to pay their late bills, generally will not pay them. Then when the attorney finally does decide he wants to get paid for the services he provided, the getting paid process becomes a time consuming effort that:

  • Leads to confrontation with the client;
  • Opens  the door for the client to question this work;
  • Is ultimately less profitable because in order to keep the client happy, you discount the bills.

Not setting and managing expectations has created an environment where the client has effectively put themselves in control of your collection policy. Take the time early in the engagement to set the stage to make this matter a profitable one.

Thanks for reading my article. Follow me on Twitter and Linked In.

Where’s the Money – Another Perspective on the Importance of Communication

By Peggy Gruenke

The other day I was working on billing, accounts receivable and collections and I noticed a pattern which shed some light on our cash flow and receivables. I was able to identify 3 types of clients and how they pay their invoices.

Type 1 – The client, who paid an original retainer which has now been depleted and never replenished. Reviewing the bills of these clients, they were starting to accumulate past due balances. I had a feeling that this was happening because they somehow expected that was all they would have to pay.

Type 2 – A client who is on hourly billing without a retainer. For the most part they seemed to be paying consistently as long as the invoices were getting mailed out monthly, without big surprises like large amounts of previously unbilled time now showing up on an invoice.

Type 3 – Clients who we allowed to become late payers. Who’s in charge here? Continue reading