Good Client Service vs. Firm Profitability . . . Why Not Both?

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Good Client Service vs. Firm Profitability . . . Why Not Both?

These days, clients are demanding better service for less. Providing good client service, however, does not have to come at the expense of your firm’s profitability. In fact, if approached properly, the two will go hand in hand. It’s all a matter ofmaking smart changes.

Value Pricing
You probably already know where I’m headed with this: alternative fee arrangements (AFAs). Clients want law firms to explore alternatives to hourly billing in order to obtain legal services at prices that reflect how they value these services, not just how the law firm values them.

That’s not to say that the clients are the only winners with this type of arrangement. Alternative billing should be based on what’s fair and reasonable to the client and the lawyer—that way you both come out on top.

Of course, clients perceive value in a variety of ways. The key to pricing legal services effectively is to understand what your client values most in their engagement with you (reputation, speed, highly specialized expertise, etc.), and to establish pricing accordingly.

In addition to being a fairer way to price your services, AFAs demonstrate that you care about what the client values. Clients who feel valued become loyal clients, who are more likely to return and to recommend you to others.

Staffing
As you well know, much of what goes on in legal work does not actually require highly experienced attorneys, so there’s no need to require clients to pay exorbitant prices for work that can be done for less. Several staffing alternatives offer equivalent work product at better cost-efficiency to clients.

Legal process outsourcing firms (LPOs) can provide routine contracts, legal research, document review, discovery, and intellectual property (IP) services. Experienced, former “Big Law” attorneys and in-house lawyers can be contracted on a project-by-project basis and their services provided directly to clients.

You can also reduce the costs affiliated with associates who are on track to partnership by hiring flex-time, part-time and temporary associates as needed. Traditionally, these attorneys accept lower salaries and ask for fewer benefits than lawyers on a partner track.

Another way to contain staff costs is to decrease the ratio of legal assistants to lawyers. Savings can go straight to the bottom line, or put toward the addition of personnel in litigation support, IT, marketing, project management, pricing, or any other area where your firm needs more staffing.

Efficiency
One of the biggest struggles for law firms today is increasing efficiency in order to remain competitive. Clients are happy when you do your work efficiently and happy clients are the ones that keep you in business, so it’s in your best interest to find ways to improve practice management, accomplish more work in a given time, and to do a better job. One of best ways to do this is to embrace legal technology.

Case management software makes it easier to manage, protect, and share information, as well as track and shape your cases to make them more manageable. Timekeeping software or practice management software helps you maximize efficiency by tracking and analyzing how firm personnel—including you—spend work hours.

Document automation software saves time for you and your staff by helping to select proper forms and completing them to the extent possible. Your team works with a database of forms to customize documents and build templates that can be used for individual cases and across the firm—reducing time spent on assembling documents, hunting for forms, and correcting inconsistencies.

Excellent client service and firm profitability don’t have to be competing goals. While it may require a little more initial effort, adopting alternatives such as AFAs, new staffing models, and legal technology is worth the investment. Your clients will thank you, and so will your bottom line.

JurisDOC provides document assembly software that makes it easier and faster for law firms to generate pleadings and other legal documents. The software also tabulates hours, prepares client invoices and tracks received payments. Learn more at our website or click here to download a free trial of the software now.


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Out with a Bang: 6 Tips to Ending Strong in 2015

The year is winding down, but as I’m sure you know, that doesn’t mean it’s time to slack off. The way you end 2015 will be a big factor in how you start 2016. Follow these tips to make sure you end this year on a high note.

Take Stock
How did 2015 go for your firm? Take some time to review the past year’s wins and losses. Did you do better than you expected? Worse? Celebrate your wins! Look for the lessons to be gleaned from this year’s performance, and make note of them. This way you will be in a better position to ensure you don’t repeat the mistakes you made this past year, as well as build on the successes you did have.

File & Fix
There’s no better way to kick off the new year than with an organized office. Go through your filing cabinets, computer folders and the office itself and clean out anything you don’t need. Put things that are out of place back where they belong. Fix or replace anything that’s broken. Get yourself ready to start with a clean slate in 2016 and focus all your attention on the business itself.

Give & Take
Make time to listen to feedback from direct reports, as well as to give them feedback yourself. Ask employees for suggestions about areas for improvement and get their input on your planning for next year. Different ideas and perspectives on how to move forward can be eye opening, and are often just the thing a firm needs to start strong in the new year.

Give Thanks
Doubtless you’ve had some people that have helped you throughout the year. Show your appreciation for them with a thoughtful thank-you. Write a sincere thank-you note; send a gift basket with some of their favorite foods; take them out to lunch; whatever gesture feels right to you, as long as it gets your appreciation across.

Connect with Clients

Managing your client relationships is very important to the success of your business. As this year winds down, take time to check in with every client and make sure they’re satisfied. See if there’s any way you could serve them more effectively in 2016, or if there are additional services they’d be interested in.

Set Goals
Starting the year with short- and long-term goals in place helps to keep your firm on track throughout the year. Think about what you would like to achieve in 2016, and then work backwards to see what you need to achieve—by mid-year, in each quarter, in the first few weeks of the year—to reach your goals. Put your goals in writing and then make sure to share them with everyone at the firm, so everyone is on the same page and working together.

No matter how your firm did this year, there’s always room for a little improvement at the end of the year. These tips don’t take much time and they’ll help ensure that your transition to 2016 is a good one—don’t miss this opportunity to end 2015 on a high note!
AAEAAQAAAAAAAAXPAAAAJGY0ZGQxNTI2LTU5Y2MtNDMzYi05NTA5LWE1Y2U0MjMxNDQ5NAOne way to ensure your firm starts strong in 2016 is to invest in documentassembly software. JurisDOC software makes it easier and faster for law firms to generate pleadings and other legal documents. Check us out at http://jurisdocpro.com or start your free trial here: https://www.jurisdocpro.com/download.


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A Lawyer’s Tips to Staying Productive and Happy in the Holidays

The holiday season is once again approaching, along with the hubbub and disorder that inevitably accompany it. This time of year can be stressful enough with travel plans, gift shopping, and seeing your crazy relatives; the last thing you need is for work stress to pile on and turn you into a total Scrooge.

To help keep the holidays organized and productive—and maybe even joyful, I wanted to share a few tips that have been useful to me in navigating this time of the year.

#1 Send Holiday Cards
This is a no-brainer. Everyone likes to be remembered, and holiday cards are an easy and relatively inexpensive way to show your former and current clients that you are thinking of them. A few things to note:

  • Make sure the cards do not refer to one specific holiday. The world is culturally diverse, and holiday greetings are meant to show appreciation and good will—not to inadvertently offend the recipient. Cards that express “Holiday Greetings” or “Best Wishes for the Holiday Season” are the way to go.
  • Make sure it’s paper! E-cards don’t exactly elicit the same fuzzy feelings as paper greeting cards.
  • Get them out early—right after Thanksgiving is ideal. That way your card will be sitting on shelves—garnering awareness and appreciation—for a good while, and you can focus on other things.

#2 Get Your Finances in Order
Don’t wait until year-end to get down to tax planning. Meet with your tax advisor or financial planner now—while they can still affect this tax year, as well as help you plan for next year.

And don’t neglect to prepare your budget for 2016. Without a plan in place, you may end up making decisions that cost you dearly, like foregoing cases because of a lack of resources or bringing on co-counsel for cases your firm would otherwise be able to handle itself. Tax planning and budgeting might not be glamorous, but they’re well worth it in the end.

#3 Office Continuity
Don’t get blindsided during the holiday season by technical malfunctions or other office emergencies. Make sure you have a business continuity plan and disaster recovery plans in place, and that your employees understand the plans and their roles should an unexpected event occur.

Additionally, set in place the routines to keep your data safe and your machines running:

  • Reboot your devices in order to prompt software updates and to safeguard against losing files in the event of a crash
  • Back up your server and computers to remote or cloud storage
  • Check that anti-virus software is up to date
  • Update your passwords

#4 Network at Holiday Parties
Lastly, the fun part—go party! The holiday season provides an abundance of opportunities to connect with people, and the best part is that if you go in with the right mindset, you can have fun while you’re doing it. You never know when you’re going to meet a referral source or someone in need of a good lawyer, but you certainly won’t know if you don’t go.

There’s no need to turn into a Scrooge during this time of the year. Follow these tips during the holidays, and you can finish 2015 in celebration and start strong in 2016!

G. Thomas Harris has practiced law for more than 45 years and operates the Harris Law Office, offering law services in Kansas and Missouri. Specializing in family law, he saw the potential savings—of time and money—in developing software that could quickly generate and customize the volumes of paperwork that accompany any law practice.

His product, JurisDOC, provides document assembly software that makes it easier and faster for law firms to generate pleadings and other legal documents. Check us out at http://jurisdocpro.com or start your free trial here:
https://www.jurisdocpro.com/download.


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Billable Hours Only Pay Off When You Actually Get Paid

One of the most frustrating experiences as an attorney is when your client refuses to pay. You’ve put your blood, sweat and tears (or at least a significant amount of brain power) into their work, and now you’re not going to reap the reward. While there’s no way to 100% ensure that you get paid for the work you do as an attorney, there are ways to improve your billing efficiency and make your clients feel more inclined to pay their bills, so you don’t end up getting stiffed.

#1 Set expectations ahead of time
It’s in everyone’s best interest to discuss the fee arrangement with the client before you start the case, and especially before you send any bills. Make sure your client has a complete understanding of what you will charge for your services, and put the fee agreement in writing, even if your jurisdiction does not require a written engagement agreement. You and the client both can refer to the document if there are ever misunderstandings about the bill.

#2 Provide clear & detailed invoices
Provide detail, but make it simple. The bill should be easy for the client to understand, but it should also adequately convey the legal services you performed. Don’t use shorthand or abbreviations that the client may not know or understand.

And the description areas for time entries exist for a reason – use them! Let the client know specifically what tasks were performed on their behalf. It may even be a good idea to walk your client through the first bill, so they fully understand what they are charged for. Explain each individual charge and the work that was completed, and make sure to answer any questions that arise.

#3 Keep fees reasonable
If your hourly fee is considered appropriate, but a lack of legal experience results in your spending an excessive amount of time on a routine task, the amount you ultimately bill will not be appropriate after all. Or if you worked on a document and then had to revise it because you discovered a fundamental error, clients won’t want to pay for that extra time.

Clients are paying for you to get it right, efficiently, the first time. With that in mind, include all of your work in the invoice (so that the client knows exactly what you have worked on), but make a note by any excessive time to let the client know that they won’t be charged for that time.

#4 Make getting paid easy with legal technology
As always (or at least, almost always), technology is your friend. Software specifically designed for lawyers will help streamline billing processes and make your life – and your clients’ lives – a lot easier.

We can’t strong-arm your clients into paying their bills, but we can provide you with simple and effective software for billing those clients. Start with a free trial of JurisDOC’s document automation and client invoicing software and start reaping the rewards today. Find your free trial at https://www.jurisdocpro.com/download.


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Build or Buy? How to Choose Legal Document Assembly Software

One reason some law firms hesitate to start using document assembly software is because they don’t fully understand how it works. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, right?

The problem with this thinking is that you end up missing out on an easy way to save money and make your processes more efficient—and achieve the golden goose of fewer hours spent on paperwork, more hours spent on billable work. There’s a reason Richard Susskind named document assembly as one of ten disruptive technologies altering the face of the legal profession—it really works! Here’s how:

Created in the late 1970s, document assembly software has only recently really started catching on with lawyers. It automates the creation of legal documents that are used repeatedly, like wills, leases, contracts and letters. The goal is to replace the time-consuming and repetitive manual completing (read “copying and pasting”) of documents with a template-based system. After you select a template, the software asks a series of questions and uses your answers to populate the template and provide you with a finished document, thereby saving you time on document preparation.

Seth Rowland and Rose Rowland, of legal technology consultancy Basha Systems, LCC, divide document assembly software into two categories: Buy and Build.

With “buy” software, a system of pre-crafted legal documents gives you the ability to select a document, answer a series of questions, and produce a finished document in less than 15 minutes. These systems make document preparation about as fast and simple as it can get.

“Build” software offers a do-it-yourself approach. You build your own automated templates, using your own words, your own rules and your own intake forms. Some systems allow you to build templates on your desktop, while others are web-based solutions. Build systems require more time initially but offer an excellent option if you prefer to customize language in documents.

The kind of document assembly software that will work best for your firm depends on your preferences, but rest assured you will find software available that will work for you and can be customized to fit your exact needs.

If you’re interested in testing the waters before committing, start with a free trial of JurisDOC software, and see how it can be useful in your practice—saving time and turning that time into money. Find your free trial at https://www.jurisdocpro.com/download.


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5 Tips to Make Your Law Firm More Efficient

As the old saying goes, “Time is money,” and that’s especially true for attorneys and billable hours. Making your practice more efficient will ultimately make it more profitable, so it’s worth setting aside a little of that precious time to think about where your inefficiencies lie and what you can do to change them. Here are some tips to get you started:

1) Go Paperless
Or at least consider making do with less paper. This small change will not only reduce cost and clutter, it will make your practice more efficient. The potential benefits (reduced costs and labor, inexpensive and easily searchable document storage, improved client communication and storage) far outweigh the objections (hackers, computers crashing), especially when there are now solid solutions for these objections (back-up power, off-site data storage, firewalls and more). It may be tough to transition at first, but you’ll be glad you did.

2) Don’t Multi-task
Multi-tasking may seem efficient, but the reality is that it’s one of the least efficient things you can do. Dividing your attention between two or more tasks at one time ends up increasing the time it takes to complete each task. Try giving your undivided attention to one task at a time, and you’ll likely find that your remember things more clearly and that you spend less time searching for emails, tasks and pieces of paper (which you are using less of, right?).

3) Utilize Case Management Software
Case management software helps run processes and keeps workflow moving. Designed to help you manage client information, cases and business matters, case management software makes it easier to manage, protect and share information, as well as track and shape your cases to make them more manageable.

4) Track Your Time
Keep track of how you’re spending your time (whether it’s with a timekeeping program or with practice management software) and learn to recognize inefficiencies in your routine. Tracking and reviewing how you spend your time may seem like busy work, but ultimately the records will help you see where you’re wasting time, and hopefully galvanize you to take steps to weed out those inefficiencies.

5) Use Document Automation Software
Document automation software plays a critical role in providing legalservices in an efficient and effective manner. By automating the creation of repeatedly used legal documents, you can avoid the hassle of finding the right form to use and stop cutting/pasting the same information over and over again. You save time, increase consistency across staff members and multiply your billable hours.

There’s no time like the present to start making your practice more efficient. Start with a free trial of JurisDOC’s document automation software.

JurisDOC makes it easier and faster for law firms to generate pleadings and other legal documents. The software also tracks hours, generates invoices and tracks payments, so you can spend your time doing what you do best. Find your free trial at https://www.jurisdocpro.com/download.


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5 Reasons NOT to Start Your Own Practice

Debating whether or not to start your own law firm? As I discussed in a previous post, there are a number of issues to consider when deciding whether or not to hang a shingle. You may have already decided that going out on your own is right move for you, but if you’re on the fence, here are a few reasons NOT to start your own practice:

#1  When You’re on Your Own, You’re on Your Own
At a firm, you can turn to experienced attorneys when you need advice on a matter. As a solo practitioner, you’re going to have to handle these matters on your own—or cultivate mentor relationships with attorneys from other firms. If you’re planning on going solo straight out of law school, this may prove especially difficult.

#2  Crazy Hours
Face it—you’re going to have to work some long hours if you start your own business. During the startup phase in particular, you’ll need to work weekdays, weekends, holidays and plenty of nights, too. Once the business is up and running, you may be able to scale back on the hours, but if you have no one else to cover cases, it will still be difficult to get away for a vacation.

#3  It’s Expensive
Starting your own business is not cheap. You’ve got to pay for malpractice insurance; the phone bill; legal research; accounting software; maybe even an office and a few employees. All of these expenses add up, and it may be more than you’re willing or able to pay.

#4  Risk and Debt
With those kinds of costs, your income will probably be pretty limited or even nonexistent for a while after just starting out. If you’ve got student loans and/or a family to take care of, the potential reward may not be worth the risk. Especially considering that, according to a recent survey, solo practitioners and two-person firms rank lowest in terms of billing efficiency. At only a 39% efficiency rate, most solo practitioners and two-person firms are getting paid for less than half of the time they work. Yikes.

#5  Difficult Clients
You’re going to get some clients who are a pain to deal with. They might fight the bill, micromanage, or email you with 50 different questions every day. Or even worse, you might wind up with an angry client who sues you, complains to the bar, or otherwise makes your life miserable. Whatever it is, rest assured not every client will be a walk in the park.

However, if after reading all this you DO decide that opening your own practice is the right move for you, having the right technology will help ensure success. JurisDOC can help your practice run more smoothly with our legal document assembly software that makes it easier and faster for law firms to generate pleadings and other legal documents. JurisDoc also tracks hours, generates invoices and tracks payments, so you can spend your time doing what you do best.

You can start with free use of JurisDOC, and see how it can be useful in your practice—saving time and turning that time into money. Find your free trial at https://www.jurisdocpro.com/download.


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