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.

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

The Evolving Role of a Paralegal in Today’s Law Firm Landscape

Paralegal

October 9, 2014 By: Peggy Gruenke, Law Practice Management Specialist

Like so many areas of the legal industry, the role of the paralegal has changed dramatically in recent years. Paralegals have always taken on tasks that do not require an attorney’s hand for completion, such as drafting complaints, motions, and responses. These tasks are the basic skill set that any trained paralegal should know how to complete. This skill set is not extraordinary. It’s the norm.

So where are the opportunities for paralegals to become more integral and successful? There are countless ways to add value to your firm beyond the basics. In this article, I’ll focus on basic client communication skills to help ensure a great client experience that will lead to future services or referrals and thus a more profitable practice for your lawyer.

Here are some tips to help you take it to the next level and become a real asset to your attorney’s practice.

Your role in client selection and engagement:

Client selection is so important to laying the foundation for a successful and profitable engagement. You can assist your attorney with process by working with him/her to create and implement some of the following:

  • Design a client-screening questionnaire that asks basic questions of prospects. The purpose of this form is to identify any red flags before your attorney wastes time with a free consultation. For example, asking for a prospect’s phone number and full address. If they balk at giving this information then ask yourself, “Why should my attorney give away 1 hour of his time if they are not willing to give this information to you?”
  • Consider creating a new client welcome packet
  • Create editable client intake forms using Adobe and setup these forms based on practice area. Each type of practice area has different key information that needs to be captured during the initial client meeting.
  • Create open file checklists so with every new case you are consistently completing tasks.
  • Try your hand at creating a fee agreement template form in Word so for each new case you are starting with a fresh document instead of cutting and pasting, which can lead to errors.

Your role in managing cases:

I call this understanding the economics of a law firm. This is where the you can become an asset to your attorney by helping in the following areas:

  • Understand how client’s fees are set and how expenses are billed.
  • Understand the billing cycle – from the time hours are entered, to client being billed and money actually collected.
  • Understand the importance of retainers and encourage your lawyer to request and get them. Also, learn as much as you can about trust accounting and the rules for you state. A bonus skill!
  • Understand that for each billable hour, the amount actually collected is determined by how much actually got put on the bill and how much actually got collected. This is referred to as billing realization rates and collection realization rates.
  • Understand the role you can play in making sure all billable time is captured, properly reviewed and discounts are minimized.

Your role in risk management

  • Adopt and use good calendaring and task management processes and be the gatekeeper so appointments, deadlines, court-filing dates, statute of limitations are not missed.
  • Create a system for assuring fee agreements are sent and signed copies are received and saved, along with retainers requested.
  • Notice when a client relationship is headed south and be proactive in talking to your lawyer about things you are noticing.

Your role in understanding and using technology

Here lies the greatest opportunity for paralegals to add value to a law firm. This can become your competitive advantage. I think it is a save bet to say that legal technology is the most talked and written about area in the legal industry. And it can also be the topic for a whole separate article. So for this article, I want to leave you with a list of resources you can use to increase your knowledge in this area and really make a difference.

The following list of websites and blogs is a nice place to start for learning about technology in the law firm:

Thanks for reading and learn more by following me on Twitter @PeggyGruenke andsign up to receive my newsletter.

 

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

More WOW Tips for Retaining Clients

 

 

In a previous post, I talked about marketing as two different processes: Retaining Clients and Attracting New Clients. For this article, I am going to keep the focus on retention. Why? Because a satisfied and loyal client is likely to give you more of their business and bring new clients through referrals to friends, neighbors and colleagues. Which leads us back to the thought that more future value may be gained by retaining an existing client than by attracting a new client.

 

Any savvy attorney recognizes the need to develop creative ways to be memorable leading to repeat business and referrals. A successful, profitable engagement incorporates great client service throughout representation. At the end of your engagement, how can you create WOW moments that will leave your client spreading great news about you and your firm? Here are a few more tips on how you can turn your clients into raving fans.

 

The final invoice. How the heck can you make this usually painful experience a memorable one? If you have been successfully communicating with your client and building a relationship, you may now know if they are involved in any non-profits or have a passion supporting a local organization. Here’s a WOW tip: take the professional discount you were going to apply to the final invoice and convert it into a donation to their organization. Make sure this gesture does not go unnoticed by including a cover letter thanking the client and explaining your donation. You can also split the discount – half as a discount and half as the donation. I think you’ll agree that this is pretty memorable and something to talk about.

 

The second WOW idea is centered on delivering those final documents to your client now that the engagement is over. There are always final documents that need to be picked up or original documents that you collected during the engagement that need to be returned.  Use this opportunity to touch base one more time and make it a WOW moment. Instead of having the client pick up the documents, have your law firm administrator deliver the documents to the client’s office or home or better yet, deliver them yourself. Now this alone is nice, but let’s makes one simple change to make it a memorable experience. Include a platter of cookies, maybe even logo cookies. With the cookies, include a branded postcard that thanks the client for using your services and lists additional legal services provided by your firm. Leave a stack of your newly branded business cards (with your QR code) for employees of the company to pick up.

I’d be curious to know if any one tries one of these ideas and the reaction you get from your client.

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.

An Informed Client is a Happier Client: Client Intake Forms and Procedures for Managing Your Law Practice

By: Peggy E. Gruenke, COO Godbey & Associates

Not only is an informed client a happier client – they also tend to pay on time, are less frustrated and have a better chance of becoming a good referral source. All pointing to good things for growing your practice.

Your initial interview is the first step in managing your risk and  is an opportunity to screen cases and clients unsuitable to you, thereby leaving you with the time and resources to provide excellent client service to those clients you choose to represent.  Initial client meetings are to define the working relationship and set client expectations.

  1. Set context for relationship. Remember you want to be in control; don’t let them start off trying to mange you.
  2. Clarify financial obligations and consequences.
  3. For some, it may be first encounter with an attorney and they have no idea what to expect-explain the process.
  4. Clearly and accurately communicate:
  • Course of action
  • Possible outcomes
  • Implications of decisions
  • How long things may take
  • Expected fees and expenses
  • What types of documents they may receive

Continue reading