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

How to Ditch That Unprofessional Email Address

BW Pick of Week Ditch that Gmail AddressLawyers, you really do need a professional email address, and it’s not @gmail.com or @yahoo.com. You are in a profession where appearance matters. Advertising your email address on business cards, websites, and LinkedIn profiles with @gmail.com is not professional and sends a message that you do not know how to get your email configured to use the firm’s domain name. First impressions matter, and if I was looking at that business card, I would already have a bad impression.

The other case is that you have a business card with no website and an @gmail.com email address. As a consumer, that would really stop me in my tracks. No website and a @gmail.com account, and I am supposed to trust you with my legal matters?

So how do you ditch that unprofessional @gmail or @yahoo email address?

There are two ways to accomplish this:

  1. Either you do not already have a domain and maybe no website, or
  2. You have a domain name but are still using @gmail.com.

This article will walk you through the first scenario.

The term domain refers to the section of your email address that is between the @ and the .com (or .org, .net.) For example, in peggy@peggylawfirm.com, “peggylawfirm” is the domain. The steps below will show you how I set this up using the tools in Google. You can also use GoDaddy or other services, but Google is so simple it’s hard to pass up. This took me all of about 15 minutes to do.

The first thing you have to do is actually get a domain name.

1.      Get a domain name from Google Apps for business: cost ≈$10/mn.

Go to the website www.google.com/a or the below website shown.

You will now start your journey to creating a firm domain name and email address.

Google will ask you for information about you and your business. This is a good thing in today’s world of online searches and marketing.

The screen to the left is what will appear. You will enter your current email address, whether it is @gmail.com, @yahoo.com, or @aol.com. I used my Gmail address. I should disclose I am not a law firm, and “Peggy Law Firm” is for illustration only.

You need a phone number because Google sometimes sends text messages as a way to verify accounts. It also prevents you from getting locked out of your account (and I speak from experience).

The next screen is where you indicate whether you have an existing domain (our article in the next issue) or if you want to create/buy a domain. That’s the option you want to take. So enter the domain name you want to use and Google will see if it is available. You will notice that you can change the extension from .com to .org or .net, which also changes the price.

Proceed by creating a password and writing this down. You have a few more steps to go, so do not trust your memory. If you forget this, it makes this process much longer.

After the account has been setup, you will need to pay for it.

This is a yearly amount. You can set it up to auto renew, set the domain as unlisted, and verify you read the terms of service.

After entering payment information, you will see that your domain is being setup. Take note: it will take about 10 minutes for the domain to get verified. You cannot set up or access your new email until this has been completed. So sit tight or take a coffee break. Until your domain has been verified, you will not be able to use Gmail or other Google Apps services like Calendar or Google Drive.

Also note: you get a 30-day free trial for Google Apps, which, for our purposes, is Gmail and Calendars. You can set up your billing or wait until later. Google will not forget that you did not pay.

Activate Services

If you select the box labeled “Users,” you can select “Google Apps” and activate services. If your account has not been verified yet, the Calendar, Contacts, Drive, and Gmail boxes will not be enabled for activation. Once your account has been verified, you can check these boxes.

Once the account has been activated, retrieve that password and sign into your new firm-branded email account. I would send a test email to your new email address just to verify you are in business!

This account you just set up is the Admin account for your Google service. You can easily add additional users and email addresses at an extra cost of $5/each. This is handy if you want to use aninfo@peggylawfirm.com email address on your soon-to-be new website.

Below is a default view of your new email service through Google. From here, you can set up signatures, change views, and set up folders (Google calls these labels). The Gear button on the right-hand side contains the view and settings function.

I hope these steps help you get your new branded email set up.

By Peggy Gruenke, Law Firm Practice Management Consultant, Clio Gold Certified Consultant, Rocket Matter Certified Expert

This article won the BlawgWorld Pick of the Week award. The editors of BlawgWorld, a free weekly email newsletter for lawyers and law firm administrators, give this award to one article every week that they feel is a must-read for this audience.
Originally published in GPSolo eReport is a monthly electronic newsletter of the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division that combines elements of Solo, The Buzz, GPSolo Technology eReport, and GPSolo Law Trends & News. Its purpose is to to put clear, comprehensive, cohesive, useful, and timely information into the hands of Division members

Evolution of Marketing for Lawyers: Don’t Get Left Behind

Online Marketing for LawyersIn 1886, Reuben H. Donnelley created the first official Yellow Pages directory, which grew into the advertising giant of the last generation that lawyers have been part of for years. Ask your niece/nephew about the Yellow Pages and see what reaction you get: the 10-year-old won’t even know what it is and the 20-year-old will say they don’t use it. Your future and current clients are actively searching the Internet for legal services — and they are searching on their mobile devices.

One area where technology is probably having the most dramatic affect, but rarely mentioned in the same breath with legal technology, is the marketing of your law firm to potential clients and referral sources. It’s called online marketing and it is still a young industry growing rapidly.

The source of this growth in online marketing is tied to the exponential growth of the Internet with the introduction of high-speed Internet, Wi-Fi, the increased number of Internet users with fewer barriers to entrance, the invention and use of mobile devices with connectivity, and 24/7 access to information. All of this has brought a whole new meaning to and focus on networking, building relationships, and marketing legal services.

Whether or not you personally use these tools in your daily routine, you should realize the extent to which technology and the Internet have a grip on every aspect of your clients’ (and future clients’) lives. If you are not already doing so, now is the time to ask how you can get started implementing online marketing tools to help grow your business.

Remember, your online presence is the new first impression and you will be building your online brand and reputation. It is also a process that takes months to build and even years to see the fruits of your labor, just like traditional marketing.

Before going online

  1. Invest in some professional head shots and photos showing a little personality. These photos will be used in multiple places across the Internet.
  2. Get a logo designed and develop your USP (Unique Selling Proposition) — your tagline. How will people remember you when they visit your website or online profile?

Getting started online

  1. Build your LinkedIn personal profile and firm profile. If you already have one, get it critiqued by someone who knows LinkedIn profile strategy and techniques. Why start here? For a few reasons.
    • You will have a professional profile to direct people to while developing your website.
    • Developing a great LinkedIn profile will get you focused on creating content for your website, identifying your competitive advantage.
  1. Create and claim your Google for Business page, so your firm will show up on Google Maps and Google can start recognizing your law firm as a legitimate business. You will need to complete this step so you can add a Google Map to your website. Add a link to your Google Business page on your LinkedIn profile.
  1. Now let’s talk about creating your website. There are many good resources available for solos and small firm lawyers to create a website that won’t break the bank. With the options available, you should be able to get a nice website for that fits your budget. Avvo Websites are an amazing option at $99/mn (that is who developed and hosts our website. If you contact them, be sure to mention us and get an extra discount.) A few lessons learned:
    • Keep it simple. You only need to focus on developing a few core pages for your website. You can always add more.
    • Own your domain and keep it simple to remember and enter.
    • Own your content.
    • Do not rely on someone else to write all of your content. Be part of this process. It will help you get clear about what you do and how you do it.
    • Use good-quality images that you purchased or use your own images.
    • Build your website on a platform you have the ability to easily administer and update, like WordPress.

In summary, don’t view this online marketing as a one-time exercise like a printed brochure. The beauty of this platform is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. You can change it as you evolve your business and as you learn more yourself.

Written by Peggy Gruenke with CPN-Legal, a company whose mission is to help solo and small-firm lawyers build better businesses. She is active in the ABA GPSolo Division, Follow me on Twitter @PeggyGruenke.

Use LinkedIn’s Relationships Tool to Builder Relationships

Peggy Gruenke | February 2015 | Law Practice Management for Solos

How to Use LinkedIn to Build Relationships and Track Prospects

Have you ever wondered how many of your connections are clients, referral sources, or potential clients?

Or

  • Do you forget to send follow up emails to some of your prospects and referral sources?
  • Perhaps you regularly lose the notes that you have collected on your prospects?
  • Have you ever wished you remembered how you met a particular prospect and who introduced you?

If any of these situations are true for you, then you would find great value from LinkedIn’s built in organizational tool, the Relationship Tab, available to both free and paid members. Even if you are just getting started with LinkedIn, these are great tools to know how to use. And the larger your network grows, the more valuable you will find this feature to help you keep organized and stay on top of your networking and lead generation efforts.

This feature also allows you to save and record information on contacts in your network that you are not yet connected to (2nd, 3rd, and group connections). The benefit of this is that you can create a list of potential prospects that you would like to connect with, record information that you want to keep handy about them, and then track your efforts to connect with them.

BTW, you don’t need to worry about the information that you keep in this feature: it is all private, so no one else will see what you’ve written.

So let’s get started.

  • Just below a member’s image and headline is the Relationship and Contact Info box.
  • The Contact Info tab is a quick look at that person’s email and other social profiles they’ve shared.
  • The Relationship tab is where you’ll find the real functionality. You can see a timeline of your association (including the date you connected), as well as conversations you’ve had on LinkedIn or Gmail (if you have set up this sync feature.) You can also add notes, set a reminder to follow up, record how you met and assign a tag to the person.
  • If you are connected to the person, you will see the date that you Connected to them. If you are not connected yet, it will show the date you Saved as contact.

Continue reading

Is 2015 going to be a profitable year? Key Metrics to Track

January 2015 | Peggy Gruenke | Clio and Law Practice Management Consultant

Business Plans for Solos

Key Metrics to Review for Profitability

Now let’s look at different key metrics you may want to review and have in place for 2015. Understanding which key metrics you should be tracking and measuring is critical to remaining profitable as a solo and small firm attorney.

Using the below chart as a reference, here are six key metrics you should track for 2015. If you think six is too many to identify and track, then pick three. If you have never setup a way to track and review these key metrics, this spreadsheet will help you get started.

  1. Track the number of new matters you are getting by type: flat fee, hourly, contingent and pro bono
  2. Track number of hours you are billing on hourly cases and flat fee cases
  3. Your average hourly rate on billed matters
  4. How much you collected each month (revenue from cash flow worksheet)
  5. Your collection realization rate: what % of billed revenue did you collect
  6. Money not coming in: How much money are you leaving on the table every month

Money In Money Out - Preparing for 2015 Image Key Metrics

  1. New matter tracking. How many new matters did you set up each month and what has been the trend? Did the pipeline stay full for continued cash flow? If you have good law practice management software, this information will be right at your fingertips by running reports.

One thing you want to look at is the balance between your types of cases. Too many contingent cases will create very uneven collections since these cases have a long life. They also have expenses related to them. Hourly cases should be generating a nice flow of income as long as you are billing regularly. If you do a number of flat fee cases, it’s important to make sure you are not only profitable but you are profitable at a decent hourly billing rate. Flat fees also mean you may have to manage the flow of this money between your trust account and your operating account, creating invoices and paying yourself at certain milestones. Pro bono cases should be one of you yearly goals as part of your business development plan.

Tip: If you do a lot of contingent cases and find your monthly cash flow having too many valleys, open up a firm savings account and deposit a portion of your next contingent fee in this account. Move it over to your checking account as needed to cover your monthly “nut.” Continue reading

Is 2015 going to be a profitable year? Part One

January 2015 | Peggy Gruenke | Clio and Law Practice Management Consultant

Business Plans for Solos

Law firms are profitable businesses

Let’s set the stage with a very positive image: Law firm business models are very profitable models. According to a Fortune magazine article, in 2014law firms ranked second as a profitable business model with an average profit margin on 17.8%. So, yes, you can make money running a solo law firm! That doesn’t mean it’s easy to do but with the right tools in place at least you will now if you are being profitable.

So it’s January and you will be sitting down to reconcile your bank accounts for December’s activity and looking at your year revenue and expenses. This is an exercise you do (should be doing) every month. As long as there’s money in the checking account, life must be good – right? Maybe, but it begs the question, “Was your business profitable in 2014 and can it be doing better?”

January is a good time to step back and review the financial health of your solo or small firm business. While there are many areas to look at as you prepare for 2015, this article will discuss two areas:

  1. Reports you should have in place and reviewing at the end of the year and monthly to help you better understand the financials of your firm.
  2. Key metrics should you be reviewing to reveal weaknesses in your business. Or identify strengths and give yourself a pat on the back.

Preparing for 2015: Reports for reviewing Money In, Money Out

Money Out: Review your budget tracking worksheet which has been tracking expenses by month: actual vs. budget. This report provides a birds’ eye view of how you spent money in 2014 and compares it to your budget. For 2015, it will be your data for creating your 2015 budget.

The key thing to look at on this report:

  • Where did you overspend? Maybe the extra expenditures are justified.
  • What accounts never had expenses applied to them? This would be for 2 reasons:
    • Maybe you created expense categories but never used them. If so, remove these accounts so the report is less cluttered and easier to read
    • Maybe you have expenses allocated to the wrong accounts. You will want to fix this so you have a true picture of actual expenses.

Added bonus: If you are not currently using accounting software, this worksheet can be setup to reflect the proper way to organize your chart of accounts for that accounting system. The chart of accounts is simply a way to categorize firm expenses and income.

Money In Money Out - Preparing for 2015 Image #1 Continue reading

Year-end planning for lawyers: Focus on your financial data

December 22, 2014 | Peggy Gruenke | Law Practice Management Consultant

Year-end planning: Focus on current clients

So what can you focus on in December to help evaluate your 2014 numbers and plan for a stronger 2015?

  1. Run the accounts receivable report and spend time on collections.

Looking at this past due invoice report, there may be another “oh crap” moment but also a sense of hope. This money, if collected, could be in your next paycheck before year-end and the holiday spending season.

December can be a tough month to do collections and you may be kicking yourself for not having been doing this all year or at least starting earlier. In December, clients are focused on the holidays and upcoming expenses related to gifts and parties. But it is also the time of year when companies give out bonuses. So your client may have an additional source of revenue in December to pay your invoice. Provide a small incentive and consider offering a discount if paid before year-end. If you represent businesses, they are usually looking to pay all their expenses before year-end, so do them a favor and send their bills frequently during December.

Tip: On active cases, bill every two weeks in December but include a letter explaining why the change in your billing process. You are a small business owner. They should understand and respect the fact that you are being proactive and working on your business’ year-end.

Here is an article that contains many more tips about year-end collections. (I can give you a link to an article I wrote about year end collections)

  1. Review what is in your Trust account.

This is a great time of year to make sure you have been diligent about moving money from your trust account to operating account as fees were earned. It also great time to make sure all of your client ledgers are in balance.

Run your Work in Progress (WIP) report and see if there is any time or expenses sitting out there that you can invoice and pay yourself, transferring Trust funds to operating before year-end.

If you have money in client ledgers, run their individual client ledger report and send them a copy so they have a current record of all the transactions during 2014. This is also a great opportunity to stay in touch with your current clients and show them you are on top of things. 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

Collection Realization Rates: Have you looked at yours lately?

Excel showing by Practice areasOctober 14, 2014 | By Peggy Gruenke,  Law Firm Management Consultant for Solos

 

 

 

 

The financial health of your law firm or any business is ultimately dependent on three simple concepts:

  1. Getting the work (selling your product – yes, you are a salesperson disguised as a lawyer))
  2. Doing the work (building the product)
  3. Getting paid for the work (collecting the money)

You need to keep a steady flow in all three components and monitor your results to make sure your business is financially healthy. Envision a pipeline with a steady flow of water. At any point in the pipe when the source of the water slows down, a clog occurs in the pipe or even a leak, the output will be affected. All 3 have to work together in order to keep a steady flow.

Keeping an eye on the flow is essential to making sure you are maintaining a profitable business. But in addition to keeping an eye on things, the ability to measure the flow is an important metric for profitability. For law firms, one key metric is something referred to as realization and there are two types of realization rates that come into play in the financial management of a law firm: Billing Realization and Collection Realization. Both of these metrics affect the amount of water that is getting through your pipeline.

Gwynne Monahan recently published an article that discussed the concept of Big Data and how the accessibility and collection of data has evolved with the growth of cloud based technology. The truth of the matter is that five years ago a solo or small firm attorney simply did not have the products that are available today. So the concept of producing realization and profitability reports was simply out of the question due to the lack of data collected to compile meaningful reports and the amount of time it would take to sift through the data if it was being collected.

Collection Realization Rates

I am going to start with the end in mind and talk about collection realization rates and how to mine this data to track and measure your firm’s collection realization rates, revenue and profitability. Your ability to collect what you billed is not only a financial indicator but quite often it is a measurement of your client’s satisfaction with the work product. So at the heart of it, the collection realization rate and the rate of payment is a direct correlation to your client’s level of satisfaction and your profitability. Happy clients pay their bills.

A side note: you can increase your revenue but if you are spending at the same rate you are increasing, the increase in profitability will not be there. Focus on the overall health of your firm by increasing realization rates and monitoring expenses.

The collection realization rate is the simplest of realization rates to calculate. Just what is it and how do you use Clio to calculate and track this rate?

Your collection realization rate is the percentage of your billed fees which are actually collected.

Billed Fees/Collected Fees = Collection Realization

Once a bill is sent out using Clio’s new billing workflow, there are three possible outcomes:

  • The bills gets paid in full in one payment or over time (100% collection realization)
  • The bill gets partially paid with eventually a write off of the unpaid balance (Less than 100% collection realization)
  • The bill never gets paid and it is a total write off (0% collection realization rate)

Continue reading

Clio Emerges as a Platform not a Product – ClioCon 2014

September 24, 2014 By Peggy Gruenke, Clio Consultant, Gold Certified

ClioCloud9The big news out of Clio conference (#ClioCloud9) this year was integration and the evolution of the Clio ecosystem, transforming Clio into a platform not just a product. A platform is a structure made up of integrated features. For instance, Google in 1998 wasn’t a platform; it was a really neat search engine. By adding Gmail, Maps, Docs, Voice, YouTube, and countless others, it became a true platform.

By Clio building a powerful platform, they have cultivated an ecosystem of developers, partners, users, and other collaborators who are contributing to creating better products and a more robust user experience. Their core product is being developed and improved upon in innovative ways and at #ClioCloud9 2014, the 450 attendees experienced this first-hand. Below is an overview of the integrated features announced at the conference and how the attendees got to experience all of this first-hand.

Clio set the stage for this event with the launch of their phenomenal conference app days before the start of the conference. Attendees, speakers and vendors were building relationships and talking about the anticipated announcements of new features and products even before setting foot in Chicago. The Clio social machine was put in motion and so was the competition for first place on the app.

The social continued with co-founder Jack Newton’s “selfie” taken from the stage and the 450 attendees, vendors and speakers re-tweeting and putting in motion #cliocloud9 to trend on Twitter in 17 seconds! Pretty amazing. From the stage, Jack challenged everyone to take the opportunities available at the conference to increase their knowledge and become product ninjas and business superstars.

Before getting to the list of new integrations, a big shout out to two of my favorite and frequently visited rooms: the Smart Bar and The Clio Lab.

The Smart Bar was a huge success at the 2013 conference and this year the need to make an appointment was a sign that this was shaping up to be another popular room for Clio users. Similar to Apple’s Genius Bar idea, the Clio “Smart Bar” was a room where attendees could get one-on-one personal support from Clio’s world-class team. It was also a great place to connect with the fabulous support staff that is sometimes on the other end of the phone.

The Clio Lab was one of my favorite stops, especially with the announcement of the @Zapier integration. In the Clio Lab, attendees could test out new features, get a sneak peek at what the Clio development team is working on and learn first hand how Clio gets designed and improved upon every day. As a matter of fact, they were busy coding improvements to features based on attendees’ suggestions during the conference. Because platform companies can move faster!

A preview of new integrations announced to help take Clio users’ practices to the next level and for them to grow their own knowledge base.

@Zapier: Now this is going to be fun. With the Clio/@Zapier integration, you can tell @Zapier to do something based on something that takes place in Clio. In a simple application, I set one up so that every time I add a new contact to Clio, it automatically adds that new contact to my Gmail contacts. It’s a Zap! With Zapier, Clio now integrates with over 300 web apps (including Evernote, Mailchimp, Basecamp, and more.)

CuroLegal, who focuses on helping lawyers spend more time serving their clients, is building a product based on @Zapier integration. This integration will allow lawyers to assign a task to a CuroLegal virtual assistant (VA) through the lawyers’ Clio account and automatically create a support ticket for the Curo VA services team to complete. The ecosystem is growing!

Nextpoint:The partnership between Nextpoint’s evidence management system and Clio makes it possible for lawyers to integrate their time and billing and litigation workflows. Nextpoint also offered every Clio conference attendee a free subscription!

Fastcase:With this partnership, legal professionals can track time spent researching without focusing attention away from the task at hand. From inside Fastcase, you can now select from clients and matters in Clio, start a timer for your research session, and record the activity automatically in Clio. You never have to miss or manually record your research time again. Bingo – save more time using Clio.

JurisPage: JurisPage provides professional, mobile-ready law firm websites fully integrated with Clio. With a JurisPage-powered website, you can streamline your lead generation and collection process. Instead of having to manually copy all of your website’s contact form submissions, with JurisPage all of your contact form submissions will automatically create new client contacts in Clio. Save more time – do you sense a theme developing?

Alteva: How many times have been asked, “Can Clio capture my time spent on phone calls?” The answer is now YES with the announcement of this new integration. With the Alteva Clio connector, you talk on your office phone or cell phone and all call times, billable hours and details automatically get logged in your Clio matter.

QuickBooks Online integration was announced as coming in the near future. No other news to report on this integration. However, the Xero/Clio integration continues to improve. Automatically connect client invoices and expenses in Clio with Xero to complete the accounting and billing process for your law firm. From my viewpoint, the Xero integration is so seamless and comprehensive that it remains my top pick of timesaving integrated products.

Here is a list of all of Clio’s third-party integration partners. It will be exciting to see the Clio platform continue to develop and the Clio community continue to grow. ClioCloud9 2015 is set for October 19th – 20th in Chicago.

Peggy Gruenke | On Twitter | On LinkedIn