Timesheet Lawyers and the Billion Dollar Swindle

To begin, let’s review how a lawyer will typically bill you or his/her advice. Consider a $500 per hour lawyer. At that charge rate, you’d expect the lawyer to deliver at least a 7 out 10 in terms of professionalism and of course the more you pay, the more your expectation that your deliverables and legal outcomes will tangibly be worth the money you’ve paid. But wait, lets tote up the costs of this lawyer and see if you math holds up to introspection.

At $500/per hour you’d expect an income for this legal beaver not too exceed 960,000 assuming a 48 hour year, a 5 day week and an 8 hour day. Not a bad income you may argue – and by the time you take off overheads, taxes and other expenses running a partnership, then perhaps this person nets $500k plus in a year. But you’d be wrong – how wrong will surprise you. In fact 960,000 is actually the base minimum this lawyer will make in a year; however we can go on to calculate the theoretical maximum this lawyer can earn, and blow a few cobwebs out of the window as we do so.

To illustrate the size of the problem, we must first factor in the costs of ’rounding’ that our legal beaver administer to their charge rate. Most (not all) legal professionals charge in what’s called whole minute intervals. Some practices may charge at 6 minute intervals, some at 15, others at 30, and the real hogs of the trade a whopping 60 minute units or more. So for example, if you call your lawyer to arrange a meeting, your one minute phone call will cost you 1 unit of time. This is how lawyers charge, and why their costs are so expensive. However, the problem is deeper than this as we shall now find out.

Let’s return to our competent lawyer who charges $500/hour with a fifteen minute rounded interval. In this instance, your one minute phone call will cost you $125. You may be surprised by this, and argue that the ‘itemized’ bill would should these costs. However, if you’ve ever received a hefty lawyers bill, rarely does it detail anything beyond a cursory summary, and your 1 minute $125 phone call simply gets lost in the noise of all the other zeros.

But we can go further. Now we’ve isolated our lawyer’s exact costs, we can go on to calculate the theoretical maximum this individual can earn in a single year. We do this by assuming that each second of the day can be used to do a piece of work, and as such each is billable as 1 whole 15 minute unit. Doing the math, the maximum earning potential for this individual is $864,000,000. Who else do you know can earn anything between a million and a billion dollars a year?

Clearly, when a lawyer bills you $125 for your one minute phone call, the remaining 14 minutes of time (which you have already paid for), can be used on a different client, meaning that your lawyer is charging you for time he/she is spending on other client work. This is commonly known as double dipping, and as you can imagine, there is considerable amount of grey when it comes the legality of this state of affairs.

Well, greed is the obvious answer as to the why whole units are used, but in addition, we must also remember that lawyers are timesheet driven, and were the first to realize that you couldn’t really use a timesheet to record a 1 minute telephone conversation, most especially if it took you 3 minutes to actually write the entry down in you pen and paper time ledger. Of course with the computer, timesheets (time sheets, depending on your location), became part of the digital era – with one thing missing. Developers simply ported the manual-entry timesheet into software, not because it was their only course of action, but because electronic timesheets were a big enough leap forward from the old pen and paper time logging process previously employed. Having it all centralized came next, and dumping the process onto the web an obvious part of this organically evolving process.

However, in the early part of this Century, with more powerful computers and a more beefy operating system, software developers started to look more closely at the whole time tracking process and realized that manual entry timesheets were now redundant, as new and innovative automated time tracking software (such as MetriQ, one of the first in the field) could be used to control the entire time management process. Other software companies have also started to take a look a closer at how to reduce the time errors, inaccuracies and other costly problems inherent with manual and electronic timesheets, a growing dissatisfaction with the time recording process, and the excessive costs of legal advice.

If you have a need for legal or accounting advice, and you don’t want to pay through the nose for time spent doing someone else’s work, then insist your practitioner uses a hands-free time tracking software solution, to track time efficiently, comprehensively and in a way that you can ask to see, down to the nearest second, how your lawyer worked, and how their time was exactly used for your benefit, and no one else. Timeshe technology has peaked, and with a change in technology that releases many of the inherent problems associated with this time attendance paradigm, meaning that we should hopefully realized a more open, a more transparent way for businesses to measure time, providing the opportunity for them to work in a fair and equitable way. Yes, I know I’m dreaming, now you too can start dreaming, and together, our thought will start to change the universe.

Beyond Marketing – How Lawyers Can Close More Sales and Get More Clients

The “M”-word (marketing) is now part of law firm culture, albeit usually still spoken by attorneys in hushed tones. The business development or “BizDev” concept is creeping slowly into the vocabulary as well.

Business development is often seen as an answer to the deficiencies inherent in the 1990s style of professional services marketing that is currently popular among law firms. The diagnosis: As good as that support is, we are not generating specific engagements from the extensive marketing efforts.

Because “business development” means all things to all people, the concept has created a lot of confusion as firms look to expand their client bases, grow per-client revenue, cross-market more practice areas, and take a larger piece of a pie that many in-house legal departments are trying to shrink.

A recent Legal Marketing Association survey shows that 55 percent of respondent firms have a firm-wide marketing plan and 87 percent have a marketing budget. Both of these components represent some type of strategic marketing plan, even if it is only updated annually through the budget process.

However, with the pressures on our marketing professionals to produce collateral materials, update Web sites, plan and staff seminars and conferences, provide public relations to and with the media, etc., all too often “The Plan” (spoken with great reverence) sits on a shelf or is shown annually at a partners’ retreat or practice group meeting.

If an enlightened leadership wants to update the M plan, or (perish the thought) develop a real business development strategy, the details required and length of time it takes to refurbish the document or create a new one tend to cost lots of staff and partner dollars. Yet it still sits on a shelf. Stratagems abound but few provide visible, measurable results.

Keeping the End in Mind

Before tackling a business development approach relevant in a typical law firm context, let’s clarify the differences between marketing and business development.

Marketing supports the possible. Business development targets, pursues, and closes client targets. A traditional law firm marketing department is designed to assist in keeping its firm’s image and reputation in the corporate eye, provide support for outreach and RFP responses, conduct intelligence-gathering, create media profiles, etc.

The really good firms are fortunate to have some of their staff with longer-range marketeer capabilities; that is, taking a view of the desired end result, landing new work, and incorporating these goals in their support.

The newly emerging interest in business development, if properly implemented and managed, should focus on and take advantage of client targets that are already on the minds and on the lists (written or otherwise) of the firm’s professionals and partners. Financial and management consulting firms remain salutary models for law firms, as historically they have been much more focused on specific deliverables and closings. They take to heart the axiom, “Always keep the end in mind.”

Potential Obstacles to Closing a Sale

Let’s examine a few familiar problems and suggest the fundamental related solutions that lead to measurable results in business development.

  1. Problem: Our firm has no pipeline! Response: Manage your speakers, greeters, authors, communicators, trainers, marketers, etc. Result: Properly assigned, with concretely defined roles, the firm’s staff will become a kind of conveyor belt, with all their designated tasks funneling toward the actual sales moment. The pipeline thereby remains engineered to support the one final moment-the closing-that justifies its existence in the first place.
  2. Problem: I just lost my largest client! Response: Setbacks should catalyze action, not cause paralysis. The firm should monitor and evaluate all such occasions where clients fall by the wayside to ensure that the lawyers responsible jump back into the BD fray with a new three-month action plan. Result: A crisis should spell opportunity. Losses should pump the collective adrenaline. If that kind of response becomes ingrained in the firm’s culture, odds are that the bottom line will actually improve at a reasonable point in time after every loss.
  3. Problem: Our office has terrific attorneys but our revenue is flat. Response: Organize and attack. Indoctrinate the lawyers in a basic BD truism: Clients and prospects don’t care about how great the attorneys are. They assume that to be the case. They care about what those great attorneys can do for them. Result: The effect of such an enhanced client service mentality will not only unearth new prospects but also develop new business from existing clients.
  4. Problem: We missed the major new litigation! Response: Don’t dwell on any one matter or even on any whole genus of legal business. Look to the pipeline to deliver a stream of alternative possibilities, some of which may not yet be on your radar screen. Result: You’ll need to start making decisions about which kind of business to go after and which to let some other law firm go after. That’s a wonderful problem to have!
  5. Problem: Our practice group has no business development budget. Response: Of course it does. You’re already spending money on business development at one or more ends of the spectrum. You simply need to collect that data and find out what you’re already spending. That’s your budget. Result: Getting a hold on your current actual spending will allow you to focus resources where they will clearly do the most good.
  6. Problem: What do we do with our up-and-comers? Response: A true pipeline includes ideas for deploying junior partners and associates. Take them to sales meetings. Encourage them to get their names out there via articles and speeches. With younger lawyers, the key is to encourage business development without undue pressure. Whatever they bring in is gravy, and you’re making a great investment in the future as well. Result: Some firms are creating a true sales culture, from top to bottom. You can too.
  7. Problem: Our firm is heading toward the 1,000-lawyer mark, yet it needs a complete marketing overhaul. Response: The bigger you are, the more you need to focus. Begin with a few promising practice groups and use their successes as a model. Result: Practice groups in London will begin envying practice groups in New York, or vice versa. It’s a dynamic that requires some political sensitivity on the part of management, but it’s another great problem to have.

None of the new emphasis on sales and business development should minimize the ongoing commitment of resources to marketing. Law firms need their marketing departments to keep the media informed, encourage the relationship building process, build the brand, keep their research methods current, conduct client service surveys, create new ads, sponsor events and conferences, and all the rest of it.

Best Practices for Business Development

But measurable success, the fruits of sales and business development, requires its own separate set of best practices, including:

  • Designate partner-leaders for each client target that the lawyers have been keeping in the back of their minds.
  • Establish and manage timelines for each step toward the final closing.
  • Provide success reports to firm management.
  • Provide greater strategy debates before investing in responses to RFPs or in making new initial contacts.
  • Constantly review the failed business development efforts in formal postmortem meetings. Codify the steps that led to successful new business acquisition.
  • Populate the business development program with targeting and pursuit efforts by specific practice groups, sub-groups, offices, individuals, one step at a time, at first, and finally, wherever there are lawyers who really want to be engaged.
  • Assure that business development training sessions are practical, not academic.
  • Keep the firm ahead of economic and industry trends and build this knowledge into every client contact.
  • Make decisions on under-performing activities by either abandoning them or improving your approach in each case.

Where are you going with all this effort? For the 55 percent of firms with strategic marketing plans and the 87 percent with marketing budgets, “Ready, Aim, Fire” is no longer enough.

The new mantra should be FIRE, AIM, FIRE, READY, FIRE, FIRE, FIRE. The best way to hit a target is by taking a shot. If you miss, you learn. Then fire again.

Next Steps

The next steps take us into the kind of rarefied business development culture that, to date, few law firms have achieved. At that point, we are looking at a whole different set of best practices, drawing on the marketing pipeline to support sales at the next level of business development. For example:

  • Using overlooked assets.
  • Identifying under-valued relationships.
  • Scoping out collaborative efforts with partner organizations outside the firm, especially multi-disciplinary service offerings with non-law providers.
  • New services, such as crisis management and avoidance.
  • Leveraging advertising and other brand-building marketing to directly or indirectly support the sales process.
  • Client co-branding, including in-house legal staff members.
  • Knowledge management at increasingly comprehensive and sophisticated levels.

Once the nexus between marketing and business development is effectively created, the agenda becomes limitless in scope and possibility. That’s yet again a great problem to have!

Project Planning for Lawyers – Upping Your Game in a Chaotic World

In nearly two decades of practicing law, I have tried numerous systems to manage projects, stay on top of tasks, and delegate work to team members. The following is the simplest, most effective method I have discovered. For those of you who are Getting Things Done by David Allen enthusiasts, you will recognize his inspiration.

Master Task List

Writing all your tasks down to get them out of your head and stored in a reliable place is incredibly liberating. I have found that inputting all those tasks into a single list is a valuable habit to engage. Of course, half the battle is getting everything into a single list so you can decide what is the highest priority to tackle, which tasks you can delegate, and other ones that can be scheduled for a later date. I have also found that if you give in to the temptation to spread the list across multiple systems or people you are inviting anxiety about the list. So put them all in one place. Fight that temptation.

The list can be maintained in a simple spreadsheet or specialized software like Basecamp. We use proprietary project and task management software that integrates with our client and CRM systems. Because most of us work in a team environment, it is usually a best practice to designate an admin to maintain the list.

In addition to the name of the task, owner, and deadline, we have found tracking the following information to be helpful: task assignor, project manager, priority, client and matter, and practice area of the project. We also distinguish between deadlines (externally imposed obligations like a USPTO filing deadline or a court ordered date on a scheduling order) from a “next action,” which is what we call a task we wish to complete to move a project forward. Requiring the task assignor to include the deliverable requested (80% draft memo, key cases with passages highlighted, etc.) is also a valuable practice as it improves team communication.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to keep all tasks in a single list maintained by a reliable person or system.

Project List

Like a Master Task List, the Project List keeps track of all the various projects you either manage or have delegated. It also serves as a good reminder during the Weekly Review, and helps brainstorms next steps. For purposes of this system, I define a “project” to be anything requiring two or more next actions. A single task would be included in the Master Task List.

We track projects by client, matter, project manager, project team (people assigned to the project), and practice area. This allows for sorting and reporting in a variety of helpful manners. For example, I sort the overall Project List by practice area (litigation, trademarks, e-commerce) as well as by project manager. It is also important to distinguish between the projects you own as project manager, those you are assigned, and those you have delegated to others as that affects review and work flow.

Weekly Review

The Master Task List and Project List both should be updated dynamically throughout the week. I have found a few practices that dramatically increase efficiency. The first step is to periodically clear your head of all the tasks and things floating around. This includes emails, client requests, correspondence, etc. Basically, anything that needs attention and resides in your head needs to get out of your head and into the Master Task List. A daily clearing is helpful but not always practical. So I set aside time mid-week and as part of the Weekly Review. Second, I dedicate an hour or two per week to go over the Master Task List and Project List to ensure everything is updated. I have found doing this outside the office or on weekends is most effective because it requires uninterrupted focus. Finally, a weekly or bi-weekly project review session with the team is highly efficient in keeping everyone on the same page. For this session, we sort the Master Task List by project and we also separately review a list of tasks with upcoming due dates in chronological order.

Daily Focus

This last step is bonus points for any adoptee, and will really accelerate your performance. Like Texas Hold ‘Em, this step is simple to explain, but takes seemingly a lifetime to master. Based on the three above tools, you spend five minutes each morning planning the three most important, high-leverage actions to get done that day. Write them down to up your commitment, then create space in your day to give those three actions your highest priority. If you commit to that focus, you will achieve amazing results and start each day with a series of wins. The problem you will face is that the world (clients, opposing counsel, staff, even your own internal thoughts) does not share those priorities. This struggle largely controls your personal effectiveness, and is truly where rubber meets the road.

For more information and articles regarding law firm culture, please see our Culture Counts blog.

An Important Job Being Done by a Lawyer in a Personal Injury Case

Personal injury cases are supposed to be built on a triangle of three important participants. These participants are supposed to be the claimant, the accused or the guilty party and a specialist and professional lawyer. Lawyers have a very vital role that is to be played in order to assist the deliverance of justice to the deserving ones. In this modern world of ours, where there is vast sea of information related to every aspect of life, there are those individuals also who try to deal the negotiations with the third party insurers on their own with out the assistance and guidance of specialist lawyer. Mostly such petitioners have to suffer consequently.

This is supposed to be the duty of a professional lawyer to satisfy the claimant who hires his services and this satisfaction can only be granted through the medium of a successful injury claim. Law cases are being associated with a lot of legalities and intricacies. These personal injury claims are also involve a set of intricate legal proceedings which only a lawyer can understand in the most apt manner.

There are a lot of such factors related to these procedures that a common man can not be able to decode them. This is the reason, it is always advised whether the claimant wants to go for settlement or for the legal proceedings, he should hire the services of a professionally skilled lawyer.

And an important thing to be kept in mind is the selection of a lawyer. You as a claimant are not supposed to get in touch with just any lawyer. Rather you are expected to appoint that lawyer who you know is the specialist one who practices in the field of personal injury claim cases. A bit of research is needed to be done beforehand so that a skilled and expert lawyer should be hired who will be able to guide you and lead the case in the best possible manner.

There are different types of injury claims and there are different types of lawyers as well who are practicing in the specific branches of injury cases like road accidents, professional malpractices, workplace injuries etc. The victim of a particular type of accident is highly recommended to consult that skilled lawyer dealing in that specific genre of personal injury compensation claims.

The lawyer not only lifts up the whole burden off the claimant’s shoulders but the expertise of that lawyer help a lot in winning the desired amount of the claim as well.

Write Your Own Business Letters and Contracts – Save a Fortune on Lawyers’ Fees

Small business owners can save a fortune in legal fees by searching online for boilerplate legal documents which cover anything from employment law to business letters, debt recovery to landlord and tenancy agreements for your property investments.

There are many free business letters and templates out there but do remember to read the document fully yourself before using it. You may need to adapt or remove some of the lines which don’t apply to your business or situation.

It can be intimidating to write a letter of complaint or send a reminder for a late-paying customer, but using a template can help you overcome the block of how to start your letter. A good letter template will be well structured and flexible enough that you can modify or remove portions to fit your circumstances.

For example in a sub-contracting agreement, it is important to be as specific as possible about the tasks or deliverables which the sub-contractor must deliver. In a supplier agreement be sure to check the penalties for late delivery are suitable for you or check how refunds for defective materials are handled. Especially useful template documents can be confidentiality agreements which you can produce easily prior to discussing a new project with a potential client or partner.

In complex scenarios you should consult qualified legal advice as the potential loss you can suffer from using an inappropriate template is more than the cost of the advice. Even in these cases, looking at template documents will help to familiarise you with the issues and parameters that you will be discussing with your lawyer, again helping you to target your lawyer’s high hourly rate more effectively.

Do remember also that verbal contracts are enforceable but it is always best to follow up a verbal agreement with a written document that clarifies what was discussed and what was agreed. Although this may seem cumbersome in the long run it keeps things clear and avoids potential misunderstandings later down the road.

Five Factors That Limit Deliverance Ministry Effectiveness

Over the span of more than fourteen years in deliverance ministry, I have witnessed a broad spectrum of results in my sessions with clients and seminar attendees. There have been many wonderful testimonies, partial victories and (sadly) sometimes there is little good fruit that results.

The list below comprises five major factors that I have determined are limits on the effectiveness of deliverance ministry for the recipient:

  1. People do not stir up their faith. We see clearly from scriptures in the gospels that the faith level of people mattered when they came to Jesus to get their needs met. Jesus did not heal all the lame, blind and demonized people he passed but he did minister to all who came to him. They had enough faith to approach Jesus and that is still required today. I tell my clients that it is not a question of how much faith someone has but rather that they exercise it, step out and choose to expect a work of the Holy Spirit.
  2. People are not properly prepared. While some have a different approach, we believe it is important that people be prepared for deliverance ministry by doing some homework. Those who do not prepare, and therefore put the entire burden on us (the ministers) for results, are often disappointed.
  3. There is little compelling reason for a change. We like to see a level of desperation in our clients and seminar attendees. Unless there is a strong motivation to shake the status quo in their lives, it can be too comfortable to stay where they are spiritually, mentally and emotionally. This is particularly evident if a third-party (a spouse or parent typically) is taking the lead in initiating the contact and setting up appointments.
  4. Some are not prepared to “walk out” deliverance and develop new habits. Deliverance ministry involves a power encounter with the demonic realm. When the spirits are gone, there is still spiritual warfare, including battles in the mind that need to be fought. New habits need to be formed and this takes time (typically up to six weeks) and effort and some are unwilling to make the commitment. People can be delivered from spirits however they may be unable to maintain the victory.
  5. Questionable training, experience and anointing of the deliverance minister. This is clearly an important issue and due diligence is important when people are choosing to receive deliverance ministry. We are quick to research potential doctors, lawyers and restaurants so we should not be quick to receive ministry from unknown or unproven sources, especially at the altar of a church.

While controversial and imperfect, I believe that the biblical ministry of deliverance is valid and necessary today in the Body of Christ. Counselors and pastors are not miracle workers and the motivation of the client is highly important for securing positive outcomes. We cannot take ownership of the results but it is comforting to know that we do have the faithfulness and power of the Lord himself working in us and through us to help others!