Let’s be honest. rockstar attorneys are not always rockstars when it comes to managing the business end of their practice. You’re focused on the actual practice of law and making sure your clients are receiving the best legal assistance possible. This means that sometimes, outstanding bills stay outstanding because you simply don’t have time to hunt them down, or maybe the billing doesn’t get done the same time each week because your staff is so focused on handling the latest crisis client. It happens. It’s so easy for these things to happen. To help, here are a few best practices to help you wrangle your firm like a business pro.
We’ll start with a little reframing to help you use your robust experience as an attorney to build up your business practices. Refocus your business around building strong attorney-client relationships. This doesn’t just mean giving sound legal advice and being available to your clients. It defines their interaction with you and your firm from the first time they hear your name and carries all of the way through your post-contract relationship.
Start your Attorney-Client Relationship with Intention. Interview your potential clients carefully and thoroughly. If you’ve been practicing for a while, you likely have a mental checklist of what makes a good client. A few questions you should ask yourself during the consultation:
- Can your firm fulfill their expected need to the prospect’s definition of success?
- Helpful Tip: Give them an outline of your workflow so they know and understand what they’re getting into.
- Can they afford you?
- Clearly layout all fees and potential expenses. If they balk, they may not be a good fit. Drastic sticker shock can indicate an inability or an unwillingness to pay.
- Do your personalities mesh?
- Personalities matter when it comes to communication. Make sure you and the prospect can communicate clearly is important. Understanding how to best approach your client’s personality when difficult topics are going to be discussed can prevent major misunderstandings down the line.
- What does your gut say?
- Do they remind you of that one insane client who was a nightmare to work with and, even worse, to bill? Does their story not make sense or are they attorney hopping? If the answer is a yes, you may want to consider saving the time you would have spent on that prospect’s case for a different client.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open. Remember, clients do not come to see attorneys because everything is going well for them. This means that they are likely anxious and frustrated from the get-go. To help your working relationship goes smoothly, consistent communication is essential. Here are a few tips to make clear communication routine:
- Set aside time once a week to send a touchpoint email to each active client from the attorney. Not just staff. It doesn’t have to be super detailed, but a quick status update can go a long way when it comes to keeping your clients calm and comfortable with your legal journey together.
- Automate meeting and calendar reminders. In addition to having a team member call in advance of a meeting, consider automating a simple confirmation prompt.
Money Matters- Bill Regularly. You know how crucial cash flow is to your business, but don’t forget that it’s just as important to your clients. By maintaining consistent billing practices, you allow your clients to plan their funds and make it less likely that they will be unable to pay. Work with your team to:
- Bill consistently on the first Monday of each month. Most people will receive funds at the end of each month from either their job or retirement. Capitalize on that by billing when funds are more likely to be available.
- If you bill online, work with your billing system to see if auto-drafting is an option.
- Make sure your team is well trained on how to handle Trust Accounts and IOLTA. These funds belong to the client until they’re deemed earned. Mishandling of trust accounts is actually the #1 cause of disbarment in the United States.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help! CPN Legal can assist with your billing process to help you stay on track. Check out our service list and see for yourself!
- Keep the invoices themselves simple. Your clients should be able to easily what they are being billed for, the total amount due, and their methods of payment. Having a convoluted invoice can lead to more questions and delays in payment.
- Send all bills promptly! Bill within one month of the services rendered. In general, people have short attention spans and the further you get from the service, the less likely your invoice is to get paid.
- Stay on top of unpaid invoices. Along that same line, don’t let outstanding invoices sit. Be in constant contact with any client who is late on their payment. Keeping in touch helps decrease the risk of non-payment.
- Know when to say goodbye. Your time is limited. By hanging on to a client who isn’t valuing your time, you are taking away from the clients who do pay for your time and attention.
Confidentiality Is Digital Too! The cybersecurity conversation is one your team needs to be having regularly. It is so easy for something to be handled improperly or be sent to the wrong account (both in email or financially) if you are not paying close attention to what you are doing. Here are a few points you should be reviewing with your team regularly:
- Trust Accounts must be handled correctly 100% of the time. Make sure you’re allocating funds received digitally (and physically) to the appropriate accounts. These funds aren’t yours until after the work is done. Accidentally using them before that time is a big deal and could lead to disbarment.
- NEVER STORE CREDIT CARD INFORMATION DIGITALLY. If you use a third-party billing system that maintains the strict PCI compliance protocols on your behalf, they may store that information for automated billing purposes.
- Cloud-based servers are actually more secure than local servers. This is because they have teams of professionals dedicated to keeping them secure. If you have local servers, make sure you are updating them and scanning them for vulnerabilities regularly.
- More and more teams are working remotely, make sure your team knows that they MUST be on a secure connection when handling any firm business. Just because that hotel room has a password requirement does not mean it’s secure.
- Have a Data Breach Response Plan. Your team should know what to do if your system is compromised.
Beyond the Completed Service– Once you’ve been paid in full. Don’t close the door on your relationship. Don’t be afraid to ask your former clients for reviews. Word of mouth is the best way to grow your business. If you loved working with a client, chances are you’ll love working with their friends too!
In summary, satisfied clients pay their bills and send new clients your way. They are the key to growing your income. Take the time to talk to your team and figure out where your clients are experiencing the pain points. Is it communication? Is your invoice confusing? Your team members are your frontline when it comes to making sure each of these steps are in place for your practice. You’ve got this! And just in case you need help, CPN Legal is just a call away!