Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

Category: Working

Mar 26, 2020


Law Firms Working Remotely During Covid-19

Question:

I am the sole owner of an estate planning firm in downtown Chicago with four other attorneys and six staff members. Since we are considered by the state of Illinois to be a  necessary business service most of us are still working at the office. I know that many firms are working remotely. How is that working out and what are the specifics of how to make that work – new client intake meetings, work on client matters, coordination with attorney and staff team, and client document signings?

Response: 

It is working out very well for many firms and better than expected. Here is what one of my estate planning law firms with four attorneys and seven staff members is doing:

  1. The firm has the receptionist at each of its two offices working at each office.
  2. The receptionist at each office answers the phones, makes appointments for new clients, and since the firm has landlines emails remote attorneys and staff their phone calls/messages who in turn return phone calls.
  3. The receptionist at each office receives mail at the office, scans the mail, and emails to appropriate attorneys and staff. Incoming client documents are scanned to client files. Vendor invoices are scanned and emailed to the firm administrator who in turn updates the billing and bookkeeping systems.
  4. The receptionist at each office makes remote bank deposits using the remote deposit scanner provided by the bank. A copy of the deposit report is emailed to the firm administrator who updates the billing and accounting systems.
  5. All new client intake interviews are being done over the phone or via Skype, Zoom, or GoToMeeting.
  6. Client document signings are being postponed or done at the office in a special sanitized room after clients are screened.
  7. The firm has been paperless for some time and attorneys and staff are able to access form documents and client files remotely. GotoMyPC was setup on each attorney and staff member’s PC in the office and access is obtained to the firm’s server via GotoMyPC.
  8. The firm administrator initiates the billing process by generating prebills in pdf and emailing to attorneys who in turn markup with comments on the pdf. The administrator makes changes, generates final invoices, email to clients that receive email invoices, and emails to the receptionist at each office who in turn mails to those clients that receive paper invoices.
  9. Virtual team meetings are held weekly.
  10. A new employee hired before Covid-19 will be trained virtually

This approach is working pretty well. The firm has sufficient work in process to keep people working and the firm, although new client calls are down, the phone is still ringing are the firm is signing up new business.

It would have been easier had the firm had cloud-based billing and accounting systems as well as VOIP phone system. However, the procedures and protocols the firm is taking is working reasonably well.

Personally, our firm went remote 20 years ago and we don’t miss the days of high office space cost, overhead, wasted commute time, etc. At that time I built out and dedicated 1,000 square feet of space in our home and we have all the systems (phones, file servers, conference room, etc.) that would be found in a typical office. We supplement this with a virtual arrangement with Regus.

Good Luck to all during this challenging time.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

 

Oct 23, 2019


Associate Attorney Compensation – Incentives Beyond Billable Hours and Working Attorney Collections

Question: 

I am the owner of a five attorney firm, myself and four associates, in Bakersfield, California. While we are a general practice firm, much of our practice is focused on commercial real estate, estate planning/probate, and corporate/business law. All of the associates have been with the firm over five years. The associates are paid a salary plus a bonus based upon their individual working attorney collections that exceed a quarterly threshold. While there have not been any complaints with this system I am not sure that it is the best system and that I am providing the right set of incentives. I would appreciate your thoughts and any ideas that you may have.

Response: 

Many firms use a system such as your system. However, other firms add more factors into the equation. A system that focuses on billable hours or individual working attorney fee collections often creates a firm of lone ranger attorneys that:

You might want to consider additing a component that recognizes delegation to paralegals and other attorneys (responsible attorney collections) and client origination (originating attorney collections). Some firms rather than rewarding client origination directly pay a bonus for handling new client intakes and successfully closing new business in the form of a flat dollar bonus after designated thresholds. You could also pay flat dollar bonuses for contribution to firm and business development – not time or activity – but for specific results such a having articles published, implementing a document assembly system, or writing a procedures manual. If you wish to avoid a formula approach simply use a discretionary bonus to reward firm these other factors and firm contributions. However, be clear about the factors that are be rewarded and the importance/weight of each.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

 

May 01, 2019


Law Firm Associate Bonuses – Problems Measuring Flat Fee Work Working Attorney Fee Allocations

Question: 

Our firm is a four-attorney estate planning firm in Rochester, New York. We are a general practice firm and we handle a lot of estate planning work and estate administration as well. While some of our work is handled on a time bill basis a lot of our work is handled on a flat fee basis. Recently we switched our time billing system from a desktop-based system to a cloud-based system and we having trouble getting the reporting that we need out of the system. We do keep time on flat fee cases. Our bonus system is based on working attorney fee collections and the new system does not allocate fees correctly for flat fee cases when multiple attorneys and or paralegals work on a matter. Any suggestions?

Response: 

I have heard this complaint from many firms using both desktop and cloud-based billing systems. However, it does seem that cloud-based systems are lacking in the level of reporting that desktop-based systems have. Here is what some firms have or are doing:

  1. Working with the software vendor to determine what the issue is – is it your procedures or is it the software. In some situations, fee allocations are effected by the manner in which payments are entered when partial fee payments are made, whether such payments are first deposited in the trust account and then later applied after all time has been billed and adjusted, etc.
  2. If the issue is lack of software reporting capability try to get the software company to add this function to the software.
  3. Manually making the allocations in a spreadsheet for flat fees cases when all else fails.
  4. Changing the bonus system and basing bonuses on responsible attorney collections rather than working attorney collections. Many personal injury plaintiff firms that don’t keep time-sheets take use this approach. This approach works best if the attorneys primarily work on their own matters. One advantage of this approach is that it encourages delegation and discourages hoarding of work.

When evaluating these newer cloud-based billing systems don’t just look at the bells and whistles – determine your reporting needs and insure that the software meets these needs.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

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