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.

Unbalanced Scales – Weighing Marketing Options for Your Law Firm

The past few years have not been kind to any business, and law firms have, by and large, been no exception to the rule. People still need attorneys even in a down economy, but the fact of the matter is that they are less willing to spend money on attorneys fees when they have less money to begin with. None of this should come as any surprise, but it is surprising how often law firms and attorneys are at a loss when it comes to ways to find new clients. Unfortunately, this is a class that never gets taught in law school.

If you own or operate a law firm and haven’t had as much new business as you would like, then I want to introduce you to the concept of search engine optimization (commonly known as ‘SEO’). SEO is not the only way to market a legal practice, and although it’s one of the best ways, there are certainly situations where other forms of marketing may work better. Here’s why more law firms should pay attention to search engine optimization:

  1. Inbound Marketing: In the marketing industry, there is a common distinction between inbound and outbound marketing. In general, outbound marketing is an effort by the company in question to reach out to a potential client and initiate a client-relationship (think, for example, of calling a contact who you know might need your legal services). On the other hand, inbound marketing is marketing that aims to make a company visible to any potential clients who are actively looking for services or products offered by that company. The distinction is not always clear-cut, but it’s important for a law firm. In general, attorneys think about going out and networking (which is always an excellent idea), but the results are limited. Search Engine Optimization allows you to reach more potential clients more quickly.
  2. Efficiency: Let’s be frank – your law firm is your business, and you want to control costs like any other business. Advertising – even in print, but especially on TV – gets very expensive very fast. Advertising online is a good and attractive option, but I would argue that the money is better spent on a long-term SEO solution for your law firm. The rankings and traffic that result from good SEO can last for a very long time and can continue to benefit your law firm down the road.
  3. Competition: In today’s market, it’s getting harder and harder to differentiate your legal services from those provided by the attorney or lawyer down the street. Consequently, it’s prudent to take a different approach to marketing than the guy or gal down the street. There are law firms that already engage in SEO, but there are not as many as there could or should be, and you can take advantage of that fact.

Practicing law is not an easy profession, and the demands of the job have only increased over the past few decades. However, finding clients doesn’t need to be the most difficult part of your legal practice. As I mentioned above, search engine optimization is by no means the only way to get your law firm in front of more potential clients. It’s a method that we have helped many firms use to find many new clients on a ongoing basis.

If you want to get started, it probably makes sense to seek the help of a professional, although many SEO tactics can be tackled yourself if you have the time. In any event, I urge you to get started today, even if it’s with a different type of marketing. Your legal practice and career will greatly benefit down the road.

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.