Tag Archives: billing

Excel Tips For Lawyers & How (Not) To Take A Holiday: Citi Execs Undeterred By Brexit Referendum Despite Market Volatility

Perhaps we should all take a page from Citigroup’s top tier’s Top Gear playbook and relax over those Brexit fears.

Last week, several senior executives specializing in foreign exchange trading at Citigroup’s London office opted out of billable hours and opted into a Ferrari funfest. According to the Financial Times, five of the bank’s top financiers took a “Ferrari safari” around France rather than help prepare for an event that could potentially pound down the country’s currency.

Lower ranks were forced to work long hours on prep for the June 23 referendum—a decision that will determine whether or not the UK exits the European Union—and described the bank directors’ ill-timed holiday as “insulting”.

Now, however, we’re forced to ask, were these caravan critiques made in vain?

Global equities rallied and the pound strengthened today, the most since 2008, with news hinting that the UK has no intention of leaving the EU after all. Instead, the S&P 500 Index shot up, the most in a month, and the Stoxx Europe 600 Index had its largest gain since August as a poll showed Britons favored remaining in the EU.

As star Citi executives sipped on champagne, the Sterling jumped 2 percent, Spanish bonds rocketed, and credit risk fell the most since March, reports Bloomberg. So, don’t vilify those VIPs just yet for rallying, the market seems to be doing much of the same.

If you’re not ready to hop into your Ferrari just yet, try taking another page from this Sterling story. You can bet that the rank-and-file members of Citigroup were making good use of Excel spreadsheets in their GB pound preparation.

Excel is not a tool exclusive to finance executives, law firm managers can make use of it, too. Excel provides many functions that lawyers can use to achieve productivity gains and perfect time-saving techniques that increase overall profitability.

Organizing timesheets in Excel can help trend your most significant cases over time. A legal administrator can organize attorney time by case matter, month, billable hours, or the billing attorney to discover which cases are the most active and which may need more attention, which attorney billed the most this month and which the least.

The best part of using Excel to short cut your expense cutting is that this complex calculator comes free with MS Office.

Your first tip? Press Ctrl + Shift + L too apply filters to your data. Filters create an easy-to-use drop down menu that automatically categories fields in your row or column.

For other tips and tricks, take The Center For Competitive Management’s audio course, “How to Use Excel for Law Firm Billing,” on Thursday, June 23, 2016 at 2:00 PM To 3:15 PM Eastern. Other Excel audio courses can be found here and here.

The same day you learn how to balance your budget, you can see exactly how much of your investments remain after the UK referendum is sure to rock financial markets.

-WB

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How “Perfect” Is Toyota’s New Hydrogen Fuel-cell Car? Why Law Firms Should Pay Attention

The perfect car. An Aston Martin Vanquish? Bentley Continental GTC? How about the Rolls-Royce Wraith?

Nope. Not even close—at least, that’s what theoretical physicist and best-selling author Dr. Michio Kaku thinks.

According to Kaku, Toyota has just developed the perfect car, but it’s not quite what you’d expect. It won’t break the bank or bring home any super models. However, it might just save the world.

At the Consumer Electronics Show on Monday, Toyota talked about its new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that combines oxygen and hydrogen to create electricity, called the Toyota Mirai.

Priced at a mere $57,000 and available commercially later this year in California, the Mirai is unique in that it emits water, not exhaust or fumes, and still sports impressive power. The car runs for roughly 300 miles and has the ability to blow your mind and your hair back by going from 0-to-60 MPH in nine seconds.

Unlike hybrids or cars with electric batteries, hydrogen tanks can be refilled in three-to-five minutes. About the same time it takes to comb your wind-blown hair in the rear view mirror.

According to GeekWire, Kaku believes four requirements create the “perfect car.” Not only do all four characteristics describe the Mirai, but each of these attributes also describes perfect law firm management:

1. Mass Market

The perfect car uses a fuel source based on an element that’s the most plentiful in the universe: hydrogen.

“Contrast that to oil,” Kaku said, writes GeekWire. “Nations will kill to secure supplies of oil.”

Like transportation, law firms also provide life-altering services to society. Law firms today must be more mass market—that is to say, offer a variety of expertise with flexible service options.

In fact, the average client has 4 major practice needs and 5 minor, but measurable, needs. Yet, on average a primary provider delivers only 1.8 practices to a single client—meaning most law firms deliver one, and a handful service 2 practice areas.

So, what are law firms to do when so many cross-selling initiatives fail, or fall on deaf ears? Two words…origination credit.

Stop saying, “There are no opportunities with this client outside of my practice area,” or “We don’t handle that type of law.”

More than hydrogen, some might argue that lawyers are the most plentiful profession on earth. Which is why your firm must position themselves appropriately in this highly competitive marketplace. That means cross-selling services and adding practice areas.

Take C4CM’s audio course, “Law Firm Origination and Cross-Selling Credits: A Guide to Your Firm’s Future Success, looks at the key to successful cross-selling initiatives—how to turn selling into a team sport, and manage the origination that ensues,” to learn more about this innovative business practice.

2. Streamlined Operations

The perfect car has as few moving parts as possible.

“In a hydrogen fuel cell car, the engine has no moving parts, whatsoever,” Kaku said, according to GeekWire.

The same can be said for the perfect law firm. A stiff hierarchical system might be slowing you down. Assign casework to the most qualified team of lawyers, but don’t overstaff cases just to overbill clients.

The recent growth in in-house counsel means your firm must stand out and meet market demand—that demand calls for the end of traditional hierarchical billing models and more personalized attention at the partner-level—stop delegating work to inexperienced associates, knowing that top ranks will only give a brisk review.

The best way to ensure streamlined operations is implementing training programs for support staff and associates. You’ll have fewer moving parts and higher-quality delivery of services after strict and structured training schemes.

Because, in the end, sometimes the most effective teams are the smallest ones.

Need help? Take C4CM’s audio course, “Legal Support Staff: Revamp & Reassign Support Services for Max Profitability & Productivity.”

3. Idealist

The perfect car emits nothing but water.

“The word ‘smog’ is going to disappear from the dictionary because we are going to be entering a new age,” Kaku said, writes GeekWire.

Young associates are idealistic. This can be a positive quality. It’s important to mentor younger associates so they understand the practical implications of practicing law.

At the same time, embrace this idealism. Take some “unwinnable” cases because they take the “right” position. This will boost morale and serve as a reminder to the higher purpose of the legal profession.

Get some ideas for training programs with C4CM’s audio course, “Integrating Legal Mentoring With Law Practice Management.

4. Affordable

Finally, the perfect car is one that is friendly to the consumer, writes GeekWire.

“Usually hydrogen cars are priced at hundreds of thousands of dollars, way beyond the pocketbook of the average person,” Kaku said. “But this car, we’re talking about the neighborhood of $50,000. As mass production, competition, and economies of scale begin to kick in—and as governments begin to subsidize the creation of refueling stations — you’re going to see that cost drop even further.”

The perfect law firm also provides affordable prices. Affordable doesn’t mean redrawing the bottom line at your firm from black to red. It means flexibility.

The rise of alternative fee arrangements is not necessarily a “win” just for the consumer. It can be a “win” for your firm, as well. With proper structuring, you can increase your client base, client loyalty, and caseload while providing accessible prices.

Need help? Take C4CM’s audio course, “Structuring Sustainable and Profitable Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs).”

With these four requirements, Kaku is satisfied. But for firms, there’s one more bonus characteristic.

Toyota also announced, reports GeekWire, that it would make all of its 5,680 patents related to fuel cell technology royalty-free to anyone in an effort to drive more innovation. This means fuel cell technology can now be available to anybody who wants to build on it.

Every firm should practice a bit of probono work.

The combination of innovation and affordable services? Now that’s a model for cars (and firms) worth driving forward.

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DLA Piper To Pay The Piper? How Your Law Firm Can Avoid Fee Disputes

Last week the New York Times exposed the intimate e-mails of one of America’s largest law firms:

“’I hear we are already 200k over our estimate—that’s Team DLA Piper!’ wrote Erich P. Eisenegger, a lawyer at the firm.

Another DLA Piper lawyer, Christopher Thomson, replied, noting that a third colleague, Vincent J. Roldan, had been enlisted to work on the matter.

‘Now Vince has random people working full time on random research projects in standard “churn that bill, baby!” mode,’ Mr. Thomson wrote. ‘That bill shall know no limits.’”

Although a spokesman for DLA Piper said the firm did not comment on pending litigation, in light of the recent overbilling lawsuit, a reader asked Slate Magazine, “How did lawyers get such a bad reputation?”

It turns out, the answer is: The Middle Ages.

During the Greek and Roman empires, lawyers were revered and respected for their work toward the public good. In fact, they often refused or collected only limited fees.

But, after the Dark Ages, lawyers were called upon to navigate the increasingly cryptic and complicated Catholic codes of the medieval era. As a result, the church started vilifying them for greed and “venality,” explains Slate.

So, lawyers went from judicious to Judas in a few hundred years, earning lowly places in literature, like Shakespeare’s plays King Lear (“when Lear tells the Fool that his speech is “nothing, fool.” “Then ’tis like the breath of the unfeed lawyer,” the Fool replies, delivering the equivalent of the aphorism “A lawyer’s opinion which costs nothing is worth nothing.)

This reputation continues to fester in culture throughout the 19th and 20th century. And, according to Lowering the Bar: Lawyer Jokes and Legal Culture, the number of U.S. lawyers tripled between 1965 and 2000, and the number of lawyer jokes surged along with it, writes Slate.

Lawyers, for their part, are fighting this stereotype—if not for reputation, for its repercussions. Lawyers face disbarment, suspension, and even jail time if caught for fraud or theft.

Since it’s not in the client’s or the attorney’s best interest to be caught overbilling, what can law firms do to prevent fee disputes as plagued by DLA Piper?

Provide price-for-quality transparency.

Websites like LinkedIn, GlassDoor.com, nolo.com and avvo.com automatically increase the transparency of legal rates—from the salary a lawyer earns to the rate of service quality of firms.

Today, clients are better informed about the market price for line items like one hundred photocopies or one hour of partner time. As a law firm, it’s important to maintain this transparency.

Transparency in billing is not just about keeping the costs down. For firms, it’s also about justifying why they are up. For example, if your firm is rated “superb” on avvo.com’s scale, your high-than-average rate coincide with the higher-than-average service you provide.

When clients have access to relevant billing information, they’re less likely to dispute charges or be surprised at the size of their invoice.

Discuss fees up front.

Meeting with your lawyer is not a date. It’s acceptable etiquette to discuss money. In fact, it’s imperative to avoid potential conflict in the future.

Be clear from the beginning what your billing rate will be—contingency fees, hourly, or flat rate. Estimate the number of billable hours and number of attorneys who will be on the case. Finally, be clear about when bills will arrive and when they should be paid.

Simplify your fee agreement.

Just because lawyers are fluent in legal jargon, doesn’t mean every client retainer must be full of it.

Simplify your fee agreements—or, in the least, sit down with each new client and explain the terms in layman’s language. If you don’t simplify the process, you’ll likely end up with a client who decides to fight it.

Justify your staffing.

Create a “staffing” sheet for each client matter. Provide a detailed description and biography for every associate and staff member who will be working on a client’s case.

Distribute this list in advance so there’s no confusion regarding the qualifications—and related fees—for each person involved in the case matter. For clients, the degrees and pedigrees of associates should put their minds at ease. For firms, this list will provide pause for managers to ask—are each of these employees the best fit for this job?

Justifying your staffing decisions is a great way to increase your billing credibility to clients, and to provide an extra measure of internal check against overstaffing.

Justify your expenses.

Did your first-year associates stay at a five-star boutique hotel when a Sheraton was available? If you don’t want to fight about your expenses, then make sure you’re not embarrassed to justify them to your clients.

Keep track of client-specific rates

Finally, don’t treat clients like a one-size-fits all customer. Legal fees are made to order.

With this in mind, keep a detailed record of the stipulations for billing; for example, Client X only approves 3 associate per matter, n-number of partner hours per month, or maximum billing per year of $$. Here’s one more example of how lawyers can use Excel.

As soon as law firm managers make one billing mistake, clients begin to doubt every transaction and invoice in the future.

So, be transparent, be credible, and be consistent about your legal billing practices to avoid fee disputes. Or, be a part of a stereotype meant for the Middle Ages: “There are only three lawyer jokes. The rest are all true stories.”

-WB

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Client Services: How To Kill Your Competitors With Kindness

During a commencement ceremony, which celebrated the talent and achievement of Princeton University’s 2010 graduating class, all eyes were on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The invited speaker had just minutes to impart generations of wisdom and business savvy responsible for bestowing riches upon riches to his grandfather and millions of dollars upon himself.

“What made this family of entrepreneurs so successful?” wondered the clever young minds of the current graduating class. And, Bezos would tell them what his grandfather had told him years ago.

“It’s harder to be kind than clever,” he said.

Now, kindness—in the business world—is often overlooked. More frequently leaders are associated with traits such as shrewdness, higher education, or preparedness.

Bezo’s point—rather, his grandfather’s—was that it’s possible for any individual to obtain or develop a keen intellect. However, learning to be kind, and leveraging that kindness to a business advantage, is key to success and harder to master.

Take, for example, the following anecdotal story as referred to by Bill Taylor in his article for the Harvard Business Review Blog.

“The story, as told in AdWeek, goes like this: Brandon Cook, from Wilton, New Hampshire, was visiting his grandmother in the hospital. Terribly ill with cancer, she complained to her grandson that she desperately wanted a bowl of soup, and that the hospital’s soup was inedible (she used saltier language). If only she could get a bowl of her favorite clam chowder from Panera Bread! Trouble was, Panera only sells clam chowder on Friday. So Brandon called the nearby Panera and talked to store manager Suzanne Fortier. Not only did Sue make clam chowder specially for Brandon’s grandmother, she included a box of cookies as a gift from the staff.”

“It was a small act of kindness that would not normally make headlines. Except that Brandon told the story on his Facebook page, and Brandon’s mother, Gail Cook, retold the story on Panera’s fan page. The rest, as they say, is social-media history. Gail’s post generated 500,000 (and counting) “likes” and more than 22,000 comments on Panera’s Facebook page. Panera, meanwhile, got something that no amount of traditional advertising can buy—a genuine sense of affiliation and appreciation from customers around the world.”

Marketing experts will agree that the above story emphasizes the importance of customer service to a company’s survival and bourgeoning reputation.

But law firms don’t have “customer service,” per se. They have client services. And, how exactly does the above tale reach the customers of legal services?

Unlike Panera, law firms don’t bank on repeat customers for business. Jordan Furlong for Slaw explains, “Many clients [of law firms] are one-offs—most people don’t need to immigrate twice or get multiple divorces—so the lawyer has little motivation to encourage repeat business.”

In addition, lawyers by nature are much more interested in the product and process—finding a creative solution to a case or winning in court—than the person behind it. Once out in the real world, attorneys are eager to make a name for themselves, create legal precedent, or earn partnership.

And, partnership is rarely the product of previous client satisfaction. Rather, it’s a product of attracting additional business from new clients.

All of these reasons (and more) explain why law firm managers deprioritize customer service. Certainly—even when aware of its importance—law firm managers generally do not have a client services strategic plan or policy.

In the end, it’s easier to ask first what benefits the firm, as opposed to what most benefits the client. But, pure kindness pays in unforeseen ways. So, in the spirit of Panera—take steps to earn your bread and butter with kindness through the following changes:

  1. Don’t charge clients for their monthly status report phone calls. Welcome lengthy discussions and questions about the case. Put your customer at ease by easing off the billable-hour clock. Furthermore, lengthy meeting minutes are often discounted off invoices during billing anyway.
  2. Furlong suggests, for valued clients, install a 24/7 “hot line” (phone or email) at which a responsible and competent firm professional can be reached for and will respond to urgent issues—the law firm equivalent of “roadside assistance.” After-hours inquiries could be fielded by part-time lawyers or those employed with an offshore legal services provider affiliated with the firm.
  3. Write a formal client services policy for employees. The policy should explain firm expectations for high-quality service, including a detail description for how to interact with clients. Include an “emergency procedure” for especially disgruntled customers.
  4. Furlong also suggests creating a referral incentive program for clients. Provide a discount for future services, which encourages repeat business, each time a client refers another person to your firm.
  5. In addition, create a referral incentive program for employees. Provide a percentage of winnings to any employee or associate (not just partners) who referred friends or family as a client. Not only will this garner more business, it will also bolster the relationships between and feelings of trust among members of the firm.

This year, learn what the most success CEOs, businessmen, and mothers already know. Kill (and bill) with kindness.

-WB

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How To Promote Productive Billable Hours & Discourage ‘Face Time’ Ones

Isn’t it typical that the one day you oversleep, you ride the elevator up to the office with a Senior Partner?

Although you just spent a 60+-hour workweek, the Senior Partner will only care about the 10 a.m. arrival time he witnessed from you recently.

Not surprisingly, a 2010 study published in Human Relations demonstrated that an employees’ display of ‘face time’ at work affects how others, including your peers and supervisors, perceive them.

“In the study, a group of researchers led by business professor Kimberly Elsbach conducted extensive interviews of 39 corporate managers. They found that these managers generally considered their employees who spent more time in the office to be more dedicated, more hardworking, and more responsible,” reports Robert C. Pozen for the Harvard Business Review Blog.

In the field of law, this is even less surprising.

Higher billable hours leads to salary bumps and bonuses, in addition to advancements up the corporate latter. The more ‘face time’ a lawyer puts into the office and his cases, the higher he is valued (literally) by the firm.

So what’s the problem here?

Consider the following anecdote from the aforementioned study:

“About two years ago, Wayne Weita, a 33-year-old producer and director in the media department at Management Recruiters, began going to work at 8 a.m. instead of everyone’s usual 8:30 a.m. start time. He takes a half-hour for lunch, then leaves at 4:30. He started this schedule so he could get his 19-month-old son to and from the babysitter’s house on time. He admits that he still occasionally feels as though he needs to slither out so no one sees him leaving early: ‘Sometimes, if I’m at the elevator and someone’s going downstairs for a drink or candy bar, I do try to throw a reason [for leaving early] into the conversation subtly.’”

On the surface—for law firm managers—the instinct to feel guilty about leaving the office early is a welcome one. All firms hope their employees respect billable hour requirements, and most employees at law firms stay late due to peer pressure or a certain office culture demanding them to.

Except, in the above scenario, Wayne Weita is working the same number of hours as he ever did, even when he leaves the office at 4:30 p.m. In fact (although it’s never stated in the study), it’s easy to imagine that poor Mr. Weita is working more efficiently than before in order to ensure he can pick-up his young son.

There is a difference between a productive billable hour and simply an hour spent at the office. Presumably, law firm professionals would all agree their billable hours are spent resourcefully to the client’s benefit.

In reality, the pressure to maintain a certain number of ‘face time’ hours often leads to periods of inefficiency and unproductive, long nights.

As a law firm leader, it’s important to recognize a person’s number of accomplishments, in addition to their number of billable hours. If you start to reward subordinates for only the former, however, the latter will become a natural byproduct.

A few changes around the office can show significant, immediate results.

For example, reconsider group meetings. Speaking with each team member separately to obtain status updates will take less time and result in higher information gleaned (since you eliminate the risk for tangential conversations).

Meetings are often cited as the number one source of wasted time.

Next, try to replace your culture of ‘face time’ with a culture of ‘productive time.’

Don’t incorporate high billable hours as an isolated category for earning an end-of-the-year bonus, for example. And, don’t penalize people for leaving early as long as they produce superior work product.

Finally, think about throwing out that sign-in, sign-out sheet for your employees. As children, nobody cared for roll-call by their teachers. As adults, it’s embarrassing and aggravating to be thus debased by their managers.

Taking attendance also adds to an unproductive culture of ‘peer pressure’. Signal, instead, that your firm appreciates a healthy work-life balance, along with productive hours spent at the office.

 “Of course, this change won’t come easily. It’s easy to count hours. It’s much harder to set project metrics or make subjective evaluations,” Pozen rightly concludes in the HBR Blog.

“But smart leaders realize that the only way they can succeed is by getting the most out of their employees. And the only way they can get the best out of their employees is to focus on results, not hours.”

-WB

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Value Billing Saves Lawyers and Clients Headaches and Overheads

The problem with federal and state budget cuts within the legal system is that these measures eliminate not only the costs associated with court systems, but also the much-needed justice that comes with them.

Today, Thomson Reuters reports on some alarming statistics: During the past three years, 42 states have cut their judicial budgets, with some decreasing budgets by as much as 12 percent. Over two-thirds of states have fired court employees and even more aren’t hiring to fill clerk vacancies. Finally, an astounding 23 states have curtailed their court operating hours,reports Joseph Schuman for Thomson Reuters (TR).

As a result of these disturbing trends, the ABA has set up aTask Force on the Preservation of the Justice System led by David Boies and Theodore Olson.

“There has not been a natural constituency for the justice system,” David Boies, managing partner with Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, explained to the Times (via TR).

“We are now at the point where funding failures are notmerely causing inconvenience, annoyances and burdens; the current funding failures are resulting in the failure to deliver basic justice.”

The other half of the court system—lawyers and their firm—is facing similar funding failures and all the inconveniences, annoyances, and burdens that come with it. Within firms, budget deficiencies threaten the foundation on which lawyers have based their practice—seeking justice forthe common man, winning cases as well as the respect of their peers andclients.

Instead of justice, attorneys fees have become the center of attorney-client relationships. Hourly billing during a recession has caused firmmanagers daily headaches, with clients pushing for lower legal fees and firms fighting to keep higher profit margins.

Attorneys spend a noticeable amount of time fixing their timesheets and writing work descriptions in order to stay accountable to new, more stringent requirements by their clients. Even then, hours are cut to please courts and clients alike.

“[I remember when] lawyers had relationships with clients: If there was an issue with the bill, we’d sit down and talk about it,” ABA President Stephen N. Zack said to the ABA Now.

Today, too many attorney-client disagreements result from confusion over billing. “Both in-house and outside counsel hate the billable hour. It hurts relationships,” lamented Joseph K. West, associate generalcounsel, Walmart, to the ABA Now.

Budget cuts and economic inefficiency caused the Morrow County Municipal Court in Ohio—just one of many courts—to limit its hours to a four-day workweek, reported TR. Firms may be the next cog to collapse within the legal system. So, instead of shutting down under fiscal pressure, law firms should start looking to the past and adapt.

“I remember when lawyers billed for legal services rendered,” Zack exaplained to the ABA Now. And that’s exactly what firms are re-initiation today.

Fixed fees, flat fees, and success fees, are just a few names for what is known as “value billing.” Value billing is a flat rate forwork for the year. This billing scheme frees lawyers and firms from recording billable hours and allows attorneys to go back to the basics, focusing on client relationships, winning cases, and making meaningful impacts on the industry of law.

“We became lawyers because we’re passionate about justice,we want to be liked and respected, and we enjoy winning,” Boies said to the ABA Now.  “Value billing feeds all of those reasons.”

The ABA points out that value billing also provides anopportunity for firms to gain expertise in areas in which they may not be know n s specialists. For example, “If a corporation has a flat fee for a year, a firm can go the company and say, ‘You’re already paying us, you might as well use us,’” explained Boies to the ABA Now.

When a client is tempted to hire another firm for specialized services, value billing keeps that business in-house. Corporations won’t lose a dime with a flat-fee structure, and your firm is given the opportunity to show off and develop its diversified services.

Finally, flat fee arrangements allow lawyers to recalibrate their priorities and return to a love of the law and a passion for justice.

Don’t let 10-minute increments of billable time lead to the demise of a firm you worked 10 years or more to build.

-WB

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