Law Firm Collections – The 10 Biggest Mistakes In Managing Their Accounts Receivable

The demands of an ever-growing legal profession require law firms to have forward-thinking management strategies to address clients’ needs. Although lawyers’ main priority is – and must be – to deliver quality service, law firms must also build their organizations to support their clients’ evolving demands, by taking steps such as opening international offices, embracing new technologies, and developing new areas of practice.

As a result of this growth, law firms will face high overhead and growing compensation demands from their professionals. Meanwhile, firms will be squeezed from the other side by clients who have high expectations yet, at the same time, scrutinize their bills.

During the course of a year, many firms find it difficult to judge how well their collection efforts are faring and how this could impact their financial pictures. Lawyers have been conditioned to take a relaxed attitude in their collection efforts, largely due to a mindset among attorneys that grants clients the benefit of the doubt and a view among clients that making payments is not a priority. Attorneys also fail to realize that clients will take advantage of their professional relationship. Thus begins a vicious cycle. Lawyers are not vigilant in getting their clients to pay and the clients, as a result, are not quick to pay. The lawyers, then, are reluctant to press their clients. And so on.

The business of buying legal services does not lend itself to such strict purchase and payment rules.

It often involves complicated transactions, equally complex business relationships, and disputed resolutions that require many hours of work at high billing rates, resulting in high bills to clients. Stopping work because a client does not pay is sometimes not an option because of ethical obligations.

The reality is that problems with collections within the legal profession are not a financial management

issue. It’s all about effective practice management, which requires attorneys and law firms to manage

their accounts receivable proactively. However good the firm’s financial staff may be, attorneys are ultimately responsible for the success – or failure – of collection efforts because they who steer the relationships with clients.

When it comes to receivables, law firms fall victim to 10 common mistakes:

1. Attorneys believe that aging receivables are not an indicator that collection problems exist. Actually, if bills have not been paid within 90 days, you have received the first sign that you may have a collection problem – and, if it is not resolved quickly, they could age further and be virtually uncollectible. Only 50 percent of receivables over 120 days will be collected, and the likelihood drops precipitously after that.

Clients reason that if the firm has waited several months to try to collect unpaid bills, they can wait to pay those bills. They assume, and with good reason, that they are in better position to negotiate discounts. The longer a law firm waits to collect unpaid bills, savvy clients realize, the more likely the bills will end up being discounted or written off altogether.

2. Law firms fear they will damage client relationships by asking clients to pay their bills. The fact is that law firms lose clients by doing poor work or by failing to deliver client service, not by asking clients to pay their bills. Efforts to manage receivables will not hurt the relationship, as long as it is done professionally. Actually, most clients are perfectly willing to pay their bills, although many are dealing with cash flow problems. Also, clients fall victim to “sticker shock,” which happens when a client expects to receive a bill of a certain size and gets a rude awakening when larger invoices arrive.

3. Lawyers avoid addressing problems by depending on the mail to communicate with delinquent clients.

Postal mail is slower and far less effective than using the telephone to address delinquency issues. A conversation allows you to have a dialogue about the bill. Besides, letters and reminder statements are easily misplaced and avoided. If the client continues to receive reminder statements after 60 days and still does not pay, chances are there is an issue preventing payment. Even a brief, non-confrontational telephone conversation should communicate to the client the urgency of your need for payment and allow you to learn quickly if there are any problems or concerns – and what it will take to get the bill paid.

4. Firms believe that accounting and collection software will cure all that ails them. Software can be an excellent tool to manage receivables, but it is only as good as the people using it. Many law

firms have developed policies and procedures to better manage their accounts receivable, but many have not properly utilized their software to help implement new systems. It takes time and specialization to fully grasp how the software can help a firm’s collection efforts. Law firm staffs are often responsible for many day-to-day tasks that leave them little time to explore and make maximum use of the functions that software offers.

5. Firms embrace alternative payment arrangements too quickly. Complex transactions may not lend themselves to a regular payment schedule, and they may cause confusion as to appropriate payment if the deal does not come to fruition. Furthermore, risky deals sometimes fail, leaving a trail of unpaid receivables.

6. Lawyers fail to recognize the point at which they should stop doing work rather than continuing to

amass unpaid bills. Sometimes lawyers become so wrapped up in their work that they do not pay

sufficient attention to bills that are not getting paid. By the time they realize clients are not paying, they have put in plenty of additional time. Someone – and perhaps the attorney is not the right person – should be monitoring payment so work does not far out-pace payment.

7. Accounts receivable management reports are not providing the right information to measure progress. Accounting departments are churning out a lot of reports concerning receivables. But are these reports answering the key questions that will allow the firm to maximize its collections? Why is the client delinquent? Is delinquency habitual for this client? What can the firm do to facilitate payment, both in the short and long terms?

8. Law firms are not analyzing the right reports to manage accounts receivable. Most firms still use

generic financial reports that have too much extraneous information to target problem offenders. Instead, firms need to generate more useful information. For instance, firms need to know if an account is being actively pursued and what the payment status is. They need to know who is pursuing the collection efforts (the attorney or the collection staff) and whether they are getting results. They need to categorize their accounts in order to know the reasons clients are not paying, such as cash flow problems, disputed fees and

services, or third-party responsibility. They need to know where the problem accounts are in order to determine a plan of action to get the bills paid.

9. Law firms are not spending enough time focusing on older, aging receivables. As a result of the growing legal profession, most firms continue to bring in new business while maintaining strong realization and focusing on more current accounts receivable. Firm management may be so busy building the firm for the future that it is ignoring the reality that a lot of receivables are slipping through their hands. They do not fully realize that increasing collections with payments from aging receivables is a fast and effective way to put more money into the partners’ pockets.

10. Law firms are not making collection staff or departments accountable for producing results. Many law firms fail to evaluate their staffs’ performances in collecting aging receivables. The collection staff is, therefore, left with little guidance as to what its collection responsibilities should be – and this does not necessarily include addressing and pursuing older, more difficult accounts. Collection staffs often end up being responsible only for monitoring payment of ongoing clients, sending reminder statements, or providing accounts receivable reports to attorneys. Although these duties are important, they do not address the more fundamental issues concerning collecting for complicated transactions and for client relationships that require more individual attention.

Take the time to honestly evaluate your receivables collection and management efforts. By understanding – and overcoming – some basic mistakes, lawyers can become far more effective in managing their receivables.

Marketing A Law Firm: You Will Need A Law Firm Website

Each year there is more and more online competition for lawyers as law firms reach out to the internet as another mode of marketing a law firm. Lawyers are spending more of their marketing budgets building websites instead of advertising in the traditional ways such as in the phone book.

Traditionally law firms spent a great deal of their marketing budgets on phone book ads. However, it seems that the phone book is becoming obsolete. When was the last time you used a phone book to research a company? Instead of turning to the phone book people now turn to their cell phones, computers, and iPads to research companies and law firms.

Most people these days have access to the internet and most are online multiple times a day. Many use the internet for their work and they sit in front of a computer several hours a day. This means that the rules of marketing a law firm are changing.

It is possible to build a successful law firm using online marketing you just need to have some measurable goals and an understanding of how to get there. Many law firms will pay some web guy to create a website for them. The problem is that just having a website isn’t enough. A pretty website with a great design alone won’t get you business or make your firm more successful.

When people search for something on a search engine such as Google they usually browse over the results on page 1 but most people don’t go much further than that, they don’t click through to see the results on page 2 or 3 and there’s even less of a chance they will click through to pages 5 or higher. If a searcher doesn’t find what they are looking for on the first page or two then they will typically do another search with different keywords. You need to get your site on the first page so that it can be found quickly and easily.

If a law firm just has some web guy create a law firm website they might discover that their website isn’t ranked well on the search engines. Many law firms aren’t even aware of where they rank in Google; they’ve never Googled themselves or asked their web person.

Hiring a professional marketing firm that knows how to bring qualified leads to the firm will give you a big advantage over the firm that just hires a web guy. Thousands of people use the internet to find lawyers. They use the major search engines to type in keywords and search for lawyers in their local area or they search for the best lawyers in a specific field of law. When they do their search, you want to be on the front page when they type in your town or your practice specialty. You want to be as high on the search engines for as many keywords as possible.

A professional website design team will be able to design a site for your firm that not only looks great but one that can be found on search engines and converts site visitors to clients quickly. You want people coming to your site who are looking to hire a firm that specializes in what you do. Hire a web design firm who knows how to get clients to the top of search engines and who has experience in marketing a law firm.

Starting a Law Firm – Local Counsel Work

When considering starting your own law firm, one often overlooked source of business for your fledgling business is local counsel work.

When I began my career as an attorney at a medium sized firm, I had an idea of what I would be working on. For instance, areas such as corporate law, family law, criminal law, estate law, real estate law, are all examples of practices areas that I, like all lawyers, am familiar with because those courses are taught in probably every law school in the United States. So, if you join a law firm in the private practice arena, you will probably work as a lawyer in one or more of these areas.

For example, the typical way to practice law is to have a client ask you to help them with their legal problem. A person or entity will come to you and hire you to help them with their business, family, or personal legal dilemma. That is the most common way to work as a lawyer.

However, one surprise that many lawyers find when they start practicing out of law school is that other lawyers and firms often hire attorneys outside their firm to be their lawyer for a local hearing. This concept is called local counsel.

There are two standard forms of local counsel work:

(1) a firm in the jurisdiction you work in, but which is a long ways away (like in a different city) hires you; or

(2) a firm outside of your jurisdiction and typically in another state hires you.

In these two situations, attorneys and/or law firms will hire out a lawyer to handle hearings in the courthouse or county where the original firm has filed its case. Hiring and outside attorney enables the hiring law firm to have an attorney present in a court-house that is far-far away from the hiring firm’s office. It would be much too expensive to have a $300.00-an-hour attorney drive from a far away city to attend a minor foreclosure hearing. So, the law firm that originated the lawsuit will often hire an attorney at a lower dollar amount to handle a simple hearing.

Examples of legal areas in which local counsel work is needed are: foreclosures, bankruptcy, and debt collection. Often the hired attorney will appear at a minor hearing, such as a status conference, and file an attorney appearance with the court. The attorney will inform the court that he or she has been hired only for the purpose of the local counsel work. A judge will often understand that the law firm who hired the local attorney will handle the actual procedural filing. However, the local counsel attorney will handle the minor matter before him or her. One thing to keep in mind is that the hired lawyer still owes a duty to both the court and his client to be diligent and prepared when he or she accepts the case – no matter how minor it is.

Why is local counsel work important for starting your own firm? In the foremost, it is usually relatively simple and it is a very effective way to generate cash flow for your firm. Without cash flow, your law firm will die.

Another great thing about local counsel work is that it helps the courts function efficiently. If an attorney can show up at minor hearing and guide the legal process along, the court can worry more about other, more important, cases on its docket.

In sum, local counsel work is an often unknown and overlooked aspect of starting and building a law practice. Attorneys who have been practicing for any amount of time often know about local counsel work. However, a person coming out of law school likely has never heard of it. If a person decides to start their own firm out of law school, they will not want to miss this great source of revenue-generating work.

Furthermore, another reason to do local counsel work is that lawyers tend not to stiff other lawyers. In other words, when you are hired, you know you are going to get paid. That may sound simple, but when you are staring out and trying to survive, getting paid for the work you do is of the utmost importance. Heck, it may be the only important thing to know when you are starting your own firm.

When considering starting a law firm, and whether your niche area is family law, criminal law, corporate law, or some other area of law, you need to remember local counsel work and focus some of your firm marketing towards this area. It is not always the most lucrative work, but, if you can get it, it is steady, it generates immediate cash flow, and it get your new law firm humming.

Men and Divorce – The Best Advice

Not all men are the same. The way your buddy feels about his divorce may not be the same way you feel about yours so taking advice from him may not be effective for you and you may feel lost even more. In taking divorce advice for men, keep in mind that you need to seek what best suits you and your situation. Once you hear the words of wisdom you’ve been waiting for, you can at last begin to accept and cope with the ending of your marriage.

Be True to Yourself

Acceptance of the divorce and how you feel about it is the first step towards recovery and moving on. Sometimes, men tend to maintain the strong image in them that they try to show the people around them that they are not affected. If you know deep down inside that this major life transition is hurting you, acknowledge this feeling. You do not need to shout to the whole world that you are upset, but it is important to take some time to admit to yourself your real feelings.

Have Someone to Talk To

Talk to someone you can trust and is a good listener like a friend or a family member so that you can confide your feelings. Counseling can also be helpful if there is no available person to talk to.

Think Before You Act

Men and women alike sometimes think that their sadness and grief about the divorce is an indication that they should reconcile with their former spouse. Before you attempt to call your ex-wife, you should first realize the root cause of your feelings. Is it because you really want to be with the person or is it because you are grieving over a loss? Grief because of loss will subside with time once you have accepted the end of your marriage.

Do Not Take Your Issues on Other People

Going through a difficult time does not give you the right to make it difficult for others as well and treat them in a mean way. If you cannot avoid displacing your negative feelings on others, the best thing to do is to either warn them that you are not in a good mood or try to stay away from them until you are relieved of your anger.

Be Careful When Dating

Some men start dating too soon. This is not a sign of being able to move on but a sign of trying to fill in your feelings of emptiness. As much as possible, do not get too involved in your first few dates because they are usually just for comfort or consolation.

Read Support Books about Divorce

Take time to read books about how to recover after divorce. These self-help books may provide you with enlightenment and inspiration to embrace this new chapter in your life.

Give It Time

Keeping yourself busy can be helpful. Focus on your work, your hobbies, or try to find new activities to do. Aside from the fact that it will help keep your mind off the painful experience you went through, it can also give you a chance to discover more positive things about yourself and your new life ahead.

Guide to Finding the Best Law Firm for Your Business

A law firm is a simple business entity formed by one or more lawyers, who look after the interest of their clients together. Lawyers in these firms can also allow other lawyers to work with them, who are called associates. In a law firm, all the partners not only share the profits and loss incurred, but also the risks associated with running the firm. It functions similar any other company, however in most companies lawyers cannot raise money through IPO’s, which is why conflicts of interest is often not there in this type of business.

How to choose a law form for your business?

For any business, finding the right law firm to handle all their legal issues and get better legal advice is very important. The following guide will help businesses to choose the best law firm for their legal issues.

a. Factors to look for in a law firm:

The first and foremost factor that should be taken in to consideration is to find a firm that has experience in working with businesses similar to the client’s business and understand the nature of the business. Also, they should be able to offer legal advice and explanations in simple, plain language, and not in legal terms. For start-up businesses, small firms are the best option because they charge less and value them more as a client. All solicitors working in the firm should have a practicing certificate issued by the law society, which the professional body for law solicitors. A qualified firm means, it is verified by the law society and so can offer better legal advice.

b. Searching law firms for your business:

The first place to look for a law firm is the law society. The law society can put individuals in touch with solicitors in the particular specialization or particular area, and also arrange for a free consultation. Other people to ask for recommendations include friends, people from similar businesses, accountants, bank managers, and local chamber of commerce.

c. Arranging a meeting with solicitors:

It is always advisable to see a number of solicitors and have a face to face meeting before selecting one. Questioning the solicitor, what they know about your business and its sector, will help enable you to make a decision on whether to choose them or not. Most solicitors charge fee on a per hour basis, so check out how much your solicitors charge. You should try and make them agree a fixed spending fee, so that you don’t spend above your budget limits. To this end, it is advisable to get quotes from solicitors before proceeding. Above all, see what other services the solicitors can offer you for the better growth of your business, and take advantage of the situation.

Conclusion:

The legal market is very big which makes choosing the right law firm for your business a difficult task. A detailed research and a clear idea of what you are looking for in a firm will help you make the right decision and growth of your business.