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.

Business Law – Ethic of the Business

Business Law Before you start a business, legally, you need to obtain any business licenses or permits required by law. Doing so will identify your business, protect public health and safety and help you keep track of your finances for tax purposes. The application for an employer identification number (EIN) is available at the IRS website; an EIN is required for corporations, LLCs and partnerships, as well as any sole proprietors who will hire employees. Unless your company’s service or product is regulated by a federal agency, you probably won’t need any federal licenses or permits. However, things like public transportation, investment advice, or producing drugs or firearms, require supervision by a federal agency and you will need special licenses. If, for example, you will become involved with environmental regulations at the federal level, you’ll need to deal with the EPA.

State Business Licensing Laws States license people in certain professions, such as lawyers, doctors, and accountants. Your state might also require a license for certain other businesses such as barbers or real estate agents. You should check with your state to find out if your business requires a state license or permit. Selling certain products including alcohol and lottery tickets might also require a state license.

Your municipality might require a license or permit for your business. Check with your city or town to find out about zoning laws to ensure that you are allowed to conduct business in a particular building like your home or the storefront you rent. If you are involved in retail sales, you will also have to pay state and local sales tax. Depending on your city, this could be done at the state level or both the city and state levels.

Top Ten Reasons Why Law Firms Should Consider Selective Legal Outsourcing

In the last quarter of 2008 America faces economic challenges never imagined even a few months ago. How will businesses manage and survive the limitations on credit, demand and growth? How does the economic downturn impact lawyers and law firms which service the business community?

It is an obvious fact that businesses can only look at modifying two revenue streams, income and expenses, in order to increase profitability. If income is down and not expected to increase markedly in the near term, clients of law firms will take the hatchet to expenses in order to survive. Legal fees will be under extreme scrutiny. Legal outsourcing, while still a nascent industry, is gaining momentum, being considered in more corporate boardrooms. As the pressures to outsource build, lawyers ponder whether they should embrace outsourcing legal work offshore or resist it. In the face of global economic challenges coupled with the increasing loss of American jobs why would a U.S. law firm want to even consider legal outsourcing? Are there valid reasons why targeted legal outsourcing should be considered by every U.S. law firm?

Several weeks ago I received an email from a lawyer who was considering outsourcing some of the legal work of his law firm. Facing resistance and challenges from many in his law firm who wanted to maintain the status quo, he asked for my advice as to what he should tell his partners. Why should the firm outsource legal work offshore, a practice seen by some as adventuresome and risky, instead of staying the course, doing it “the way we have always done it.” I answered him with the top ten reasons why every law firm should consider selective legal outsourcing:

1. PRUDENT, TARGETED OUTSOURCING WILL RESULT IN REDUCED LAW FIRM OVERHEAD

Outsourcing some legal work to qualified providers in India will result in significantly lower overhead to the outsourcing law firm. In assessing the comparative costs the law firm will be wise to carefully calculate the real costs of employing one lawyer or paralegal. Those costs include salary and bonus, health insurance, vacation and holiday pay, sick time expense, FICA, office space and equipment for the lawyer, paralegal and secretarial staff assigned to that lawyer, pension and profit sharing, auto and parking expense, CLE seminar costs, and other employment benefits such as disability and life insurance. The real annual cost of one lawyer earning a base annual salary of $150,000-$175,000 is more likely in the range of $250,000 to $300,000 per year. NONE of these customary expenses accrue to a law firm utilizing supplemental offshore legal providers.

2. OUTSOURCING WILL ENHANCE LAW FIRM EFFICIENCIES

Selective outsourcing will improve the efficiency of your law firm. Because Indian lawyers work while American lawyers sleep, it will be like your law firm has a full time, fully staffed night shift. Some work can be assigned by a partner at 6 p.m. in the evening and the completed task on his desk when he arrives at the office the next morning. Litigation cases will move more rapidly through the court system with less need for extensions of time.

3. OUTSOURCING WILL RESULT IN IMPROVED LAWYER MORALE

As a child not many of the sermons I heard from my pastor stuck with me. But one, when I was fourteen years of age still rings a bell. He said: “Ninety percent of any worthwhile endeavor is pack work, plugging, day in and day out. Only ten percent of our work tasks are necessarily fun and enjoyable.” I have always remembered that statement. In more than two decades as a trial lawyer I enjoyed strategizing and trying cases to juries. But I did not necessarily enjoy all of the trial and deposition preparation, research and briefing, document review, and other mundane essentials of the practice of law. A law firm which incorporates outsourcing into its practice will inevitably foster more contented lawyers who devote their time and energies to the more challenging, fun and rewarding parts of the practice of law. Only the “chore” legal work is outsourced with the “core” work staying onshore. This allows more time for client interaction and development by the firm’s lawyers.

4. OUTSOURCING WILL RESULT IN OVERALL SAVINGS IN LEGAL FEES TO CLIENTS

Clients of law firms, particularly business clients, are searching far and wide for ways to cut their legal expenses. Many ask why they should pay, for example, $200 to $300 hourly for document review. Gone are the days when legal bills are simply paid without scrutiny. Likewise, the annual increases in hourly rates will not be well received by clients looking to cut costs. Wise law firms put the interests of their clients above their own. What is good for the client will ultimately be good for the law firm itself.

5. THE RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT REQUIRE OUTSOURCING CONSIDERATION

The Rules of Professional Conduct of require that: a. “A lawyer should seek to achieve the lawful objectives of a client through reasonable permissible means.” (Rule 1.2) b. “A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions about the representation.” (Rule 1.4 b) c. “A lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to expedite litigation consistent with the interests of the client.” (Rule 3.2)

A lawyer is required to explore and discuss with his client all reasonable means of accomplishing the client’s objectives. A lawyer is not permitted to charge an unreasonable or excessive fee. It would seem that a lawyer is arguably required to discuss selective outsourcing as a way of reducing the client’s ultimate fee obligation and furthering the interests of the client.

6. OUTSOURCING “CHORE” LEGAL WORK PROMOTES CLIENT RETENTION AND DEVELOPMENT

Clients have long questioned ever-increasing legal fees for basic, “chore” legal work. However, they felt as if they had no alternative. They needed the legal representation and wanted good quality work. As there was not a significant degree of fee variance from law firm to law firm, clients tended to “stay put.” This trend is beginning to change as clients learn that they have options. Lawyers who outsource selectively are reporting a more contented, loyal client base. Clients who perceive that their lawyers are looking out for the entirety of the their interests, including fee costs, tend to remain committed to their existing law firms and even refer other clients (whose lawyers refuse to outsource).

7. THE COMPETITION IS OUTSOURCING

If your law firm is not outsourcing, be certain that your competition is. On August 21, 2007 Bloomberg. com reported that even long-established AMLAW 100 law firms like Jones Day and Kirkland & Ellis are outsourcing under pressure from clients.

8. OUTSOURCING U.S. LAW FIRMS MAY CHARGE A REASONABLE SUPERVISORY FEE

It is reasonable and acceptable for U.S. law firms outsourcing legal work offshore to charge a reasonable supervisory fee in conjunction with outsourced legal work. It is axiomatic that a lawyer who outsources legal work, whether to an associate, contract lawyer or offshore provider, ultimately remains responsible to his client for the quality and timeliness of delivery of the legal product. If a lawyer assigns the research and writing of a brief to a junior associate, the assigning lawyer will not customarily submit the final work product to the court without review and supervision. So it is with offshore legal outsourcing. Published ethics opinions of the San Diego, New York and American Bar Associations indicate that a lawyer who outsources offshore may charge a reasonable supervisory fee.

9. CLIENTS ARE INSISTING ON SELECTIVE OUTSOURCING TO ACHIEVE COST SAVINGS

Clients talk to one another. Executives of major companies golf and have lunch with one another. Corporate General Counsel attend meetings and CLE seminars, sharing information and ways to increase efficiencies and cut costs. They know about offshore outsourcing and the dramatic cost savings that can be achieved. It is unacceptable, therefore, to ignore legal outsourcing and, as one managing law firm partner told me, have “no appetite” for it.

10. OUTSOURCING WILL HAPPEN.

Doing nothing is not an option. Some are outsourcing. Many more are considering it, whether prompted by keen business sense or financial realities. Outsourcing is like a large, ominous wave a few miles offshore. It is preferable to surf the wave than wait to be engulfed, overwhelmed by its power and left wondering what happened.

British economist Herbert Spencer is credited with originating the term “survival of the fittest” in the mid 19th century. Although also having application to biology, Spencer applied the concept of survival of the fittest to free market economics. In a free market, companies and businesses will do what is necessary to survive. If that means outsourcing some U.S. legal jobs for the greater good of survival of the entity itself, then so be it. The model of ever increasing salaries and expenses for law firms followed by even higher legal fees charged clients cannot sustain itself any longer. Legal outsourcing is here to stay. The wise will take notice, survive and flourish.

A Comprehensive Law Firm Search

In a civilize society like ours, one of the major factors that dictates how an individual should act and perform his dealings is what we call law. This set of principles and rules aims to maintain justice, peace and order, equality and wellbeing of the people.

However, there are various and untoward circumstances wherein some ill-mannered citizens tend to defy the laws and practically cause harm or damages to others. These are the instances wherein the affected victims greatly need the help and support of a respectable law firm that has the capacity to advocate their causes and ensure that justice will be served to them.

But the real problem is that most legal assistance seekers are having a hard time searching for the law firm that houses the most credible lawyers to provide the best legal services. Among the numerous law companies, one may think that all of them have the capability of dealing with his particular legal concern; but it is not.

In order to hire the right lawyer for your case, you should have a comprehensive look on these law firms’ background and specialization.

Field of Specialization

Law firms, may be categorized according to their area of expertise. Although lawyers are expected to have an understanding of all the aspects of law, you should not assume that they perform well in those fields.

A law firm may focus on several fields. These include civil law, business law, international law, real estate, labor law, social security, women’s rights, family law and personal injury among others. Thus, you must precisely choose the right firm that suits your needs.

For example, if you have suffered an injury from a car accident, a law firm that specializes in employment law should not be an option. It would be necessary for you to hire a personal injury lawyer who has the background in handling car accident claims. Hiring his services will give you a much higher possibility of having a positive case result.

Background Check

The law firm’s expertise in a particular field is not the only guarantee that they perform well in handling their clients’ cases. You should also look into their backgrounds. In many situations, successful case verdicts have been handled by those legal companies that have already maintained a good reputation in the legal business.

A law firm’s long history may be very important. Like what many people say, experience will make one better.

Another thing that you can rely on is the law firms’ vast network of connections. Having numerous associations with other legal companies and organization can be an indication that they are well respected by their colleagues. This means greater credibility for them.

The most important factor to determine in a law firm is their record of winning cases. Before you hire their services, examine their list of verdicts and settlements. It would also be better if you would spend some time to talk to their former clients if they are contented with the law firm’s manner of managing their cases. The information that you will gather from these people may also help you to finalize your decision.

Law Firms – How to Pick the Best One for You

If you are in need of professional and reliable legal advice, then you need to think about the aspects you would like to define the chosen law firm and where to look for that particular law firm. No matter if you need business consultancy or you have been sued and you need competent legal representation, a professional law firm can help you out.

Aspects That Define a Truly Reputable Law Firm

First and foremost, the employees of the law firm must have extensive knowledge in their field of activity – the more customers they have had in the past, the better! Part of the knowledge is given by “hands-on experience”, this is why lawyers that have represented many people in the past are more preferred than beginners – even so, this is not a general rule.

Moreover, the lawyers should talk to you in clear and plain English, rather than using that legal talk only professionals tend to understand. The lawyer must not forget to offer clear and concise advice and explanations whenever you need them. Also, keep in mind that just like it happens with medicine and other professionals, law has different branches: there is the tax law, civil law, criminal law, divorce law and so on. It is essential to choose the one that best meets your needs.

Certification is also highly important, as you must only work with skilled, certified and competent people who have received accreditation from professional bodies. The accreditation is a very good indicator that will help you see whether the law firm in question is actually the most qualified one for your situation.

The client-lawyer privilege is another important aspect, as this is related to mutual respect and understanding – the lawyer must understand your case, he or she must not be judgmental and the lawyer must offer unbiased, objective and useful legal advice. In order to do so, the lawyer must firstly be qualified for the job.

Where to Look for Good Law Firms?

When it comes to selecting the best firm out of several law firms, it must be mentioned that there is more than just one place where you can go and look for reputable lawyers. There are special legal societies where all the law firms are listed – these institutions can put you in touch with a local firm and you can arrange a consultation, to see whether the firm meets your needs. On the other hand, you can rely on word of mouth – ask your acquaintances for recommendations, and you might be surprised to find an affordable and professional lawyer nearby! On the other hand, the local newspaper or the Internet can also come in handy – especially the local newspaper, as most attorneys and lawyers choose to advertise their services there.

The last step you need to do prior to signing the contract is to talk to the desired law firms face to face, to see if you are on the same wavelength. Make sure to ask essential questions, such as the hourly rate, the track of record, the availability and such. In some cases, it can help to set a fixed spending limit that will allow you to stay within the limits of your budget. Last, but not least, make sure to ask your attorney about his expertise and the services he specializes in.