Over the last 27 years, Benay has worked with many law firms and we've found a number of the same mistakes made again and again. We've pared them down to the top six:
1. You don't properly track your time.
Surprisingly many lawyers do not properly track their time. Because there are so many programs that can easily track an attorney's time spent on a particular matter, there's really no excuse (Clio, Amicus, Time Matters, etc.) When you don't properly track time you're prone to either forgetting how much time you spent on a matter or underestimating the time spent. Often that means money left on the table. Think of not billing for time worked as the equivalent of working pro bono.
2. You don't request sufficient retainers.
If you give clients a reasonable estimate of the costs of a legal issue and then ask for that amount upfront, they'll know what they're paying for. It's always best to return the balance of a retainer after a job well done than chase clients for more money to pay their outstanding bills.
3. You have your spouse keep your books and financial records.
Running the back office of any business takes time and organization. You should be using the professional services of either a bookkeeper, accountant, or business manager to ensure that all client trust accounts are kept separate and in order, that expenses are billed as opposed to absorbed by the practice, and that your income and expenses are properly recorded.
4. You do not consistently & periodically communicate with your clients.
You can easily manage your client's expectations by giving them timely updates on the work you're performing on their behalf. Just a general progress report via email, phone, or a more formal status report will let them know you are on top of issues and that you value their business. This will also ensure that they are not surprised by bills for time spent.
5. You do not prepare and send out your bills on time.
Often when an attorney finally does calculate the actual time spent on a matter and then sends to bill the client, the amount is so large they are forced to discount the amount by 10 to 20% so as not to offend the client. Timely or interim billing keeps this from happening and earns you the fees you deserve.
6. You do not use your client list as your number one marketing tool.
Your clients already have firsthand knowledge of your services. Your client list is your greatest asset. As suggested by Rucci Law Group's Kate Diehm:
"Using a scheduled follow-up thank-you note to each client after services rendered (which also reminds them of the depth of your practice area), will ensure that they are prompted to not only use you for the next services needed, but to remember you when others are looking for legal referrals."
The growth of online legal competition requires law firms to consistently make the case why a real lawyer still matters. In today's world, you have to prove that your services cannot be replicated by an online alternative.