Most clients don’t know how to be clients…you need to teach them how to be clients. The below have been a long time coming for my Firm. Attorney-Client, Doctor-Patient are fiduciary relationships of heightened importance, these aren’t like a customer buying a pack of gum at Walgreens. And once you get compliance they just help your business a ton. You eliminate the needless “urgent” client calls, clients know how/when to pay, clients know how case updates are communicated, and they know what happens to their documents when the case is over. A good place to find Client or Patient Bills of Rights are in hospitals, the list below were actually partially based on what I saw while spending a good bit of time at Marquette General Hospital over Christmas 2012.
These are new enough that I’m still tweaking how we use them. I’m expecting that they’ll be part of what gets emailed to a prospective client to confirm their free, initial consultation. Further, they’ll be enclosed in the prospective client folder that we give at the initial consultation. Then we’ll probably highlight a touch as part of the initial client sales call. So these are our current Client Responsibilities:
You have responsibilities as a client.
- Payment for Legal Services. Your initial payment is required before any legal work is performed and prior to the creation of an attorney-client relationship (payment amount varies by individual case type & circumstances). A separate, written engagement agreement must also be executed prior to the creation of an attorney-client relationship. We send-out client bills on a monthly basis and all invoices are due upon receipt. A 10% payment-in-full discount is given to clients who pay their bill in full each month. You can pay your bill online at: Familylawchicago.com. You can also call us to make payments over the telephone, or, you can mail payments and payment authorizations to the address above. Attorney’s fees will be paid in full prior to the entry of a dissolution of marriage or the final resolution of a client’s matter unless prior arrangements have been made by client and attorney consents to monthly payments after the conclusion of the case. We reserve the right to withdraw from this matter for any just reason as permitted or required by the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct and as permitted by the rules of courts of the State ofIllinois. Upon termination, you agree to pay for all services rendered to the date of termination and all other fees, charges, and expenses incurred.
- Client Costs: Reimbursement. In client matters that involve the court system, court filing fees, service of process expenses, and all costs that must be paid to the circuit court clerk or the sheriff to file a case are the client’s responsibility and must be paid in advance. We do not charge for travel time. We do not charge for general copying or regular first class mail. We do require client reimbursement for premium delivery services such us overnight mail, FedEx/UPS, or the various certified/registered mail products. We do require client reimbursement for major copying projects of more than 100 pages such as copying a client’s entire file.
- Honesty is the Best Policy. Honesty is a must for both client and attorney. It is critical that our Firm be open and honest with clientele so they develop trust in us and know we are reliable. The Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct require that we do not make false statements of fact or law. Therefore clients must fully inform us of all details relating to the matter in which we are representing them. This includes all actions taken either by a client or by previous counsel, and any negotiations with the opposing party. The truth can come out at the worst possible time if people are not honest.
- General Communication. We have a strong preference for e-mail communication because it’s less obtrusive for everyone. We want to provide thorough legal representation which requires intense concentration and attention to detail and constant interruption doesn’t serve that purpose. At a minimum our lawyers and staff check e-mail at the start and end of the business day. Billing, scheduling, and administrative questions should be addressed to our Client Relations Manager while substantive legal matters should be directed to a lawyer. Clients should communicate address or contact changes as soon as possible, even after their matter is completed since this allows us to keep you informed about important changes of law that may affect you.
- Appointments with Attorneys (subject to “Emergency” exception below). All attorney appointments (whether in-person or telephone) should be set through our Website: Familylawchicago.com. Our main office is located at161 N. Clark Street, Suite. 3200,Chicago,Illinois (Clark/Randolph). We also offer various suburbanChicago locations, by appointment only. You can also schedule appointments over the telephone (312-893-5888) by calling our Client Relations Manager.
- The Definition of an “Emergency.” An emergency is a situation that requires immediate attorney attention and cannot wait until normal business hours (8:45am – 4:45pm) or regular appointment scheduling. Emergencies are very rare. Within our family law practice the following circumstances would constitute an emergency: A person has been arrested, domestic violence has been threatened, or a child or children’s possession or safety is at risk.
- Privacy & Confidentiality. Confidentiality is the cornerstone of our profession. Client matters are kept strictly confidential both inside and outside the office, including the fact that a client is represented at all. Strict discretion is used when making telephone calls and client materials are secured and not subject to casual review. There is no expiration date on the Attorney-Client privilege.
- Treatment of Opposing Parties. We are pro-marriage and pro-family divorce lawyers because family relationships don’t end just because a marriage or other relationship does (among other areas of practice). We follow the Golden Rule and treat our clients, other lawyers, and opposing clients in the same manner we want to be treated.
- File Retention. Our client file is your property. At the end of our legal representation we return all client trust property (original documents, insurance policies, estate plans, etc.) to the client. At your request, we can also give you the client file in its entirety. If a client does not request his hard file in its entirety, subject to the above we will save a digital copy of the client file and discard the hard copy of the client file.
- New Developments in a Case. We promise to communicate to you and to actually show you all work that is occurring on your matter. Our Client Relations Manager will forward you all documents relating to your case such as court orders, pleadings, correspondence, and monthly invoices. The attorney assigned to your case will communicate with you regarding legal advice and substantive matters.
- Referrals & Repeat Business. Our goal is to create client loyalty from day one. All follow-up questions and discussions related to the matter that we represented you on in the past are free-of-charge. For example, if we represented you in a child custody matter and you wanted to discuss possible changes to a parenting agreement and how that could be accomplished, that would not be billed. All repeat clients or their referrals are given a 20% discount on attorney’s fees. Continuing with the example above, if you now wanted us to file a petition in court to modify substantive provisions of a previous child custody order you would be charged at a 20% discounted fee compared to the attorney’s fees currently in effect at the time of the repeat business.
- Great Lawyers Serving Great Clients. We are a specialized domestic relations and elder law firm that strives to provide great value and service in our legal services business. We provide premium legal services at value-oriented prices. We don’t want to be the priciest firm around but our fees must support the staff, technology, and training necessary to provide the finest legal representation possible. Our clients are responsive in communication, courteous with regards to appointments, they inform our lawyers on all facts about a situation, and pay their bill promptly.
Posted by Peter
on June 13, 2013
law firm management
This has been a long-time coming for my legal services business and something I’m actually kind of proud of and something I view as a critical hurdle towards the future growth of our Firm. The reality is that businesses and organizations that want to perform consistently and where personnel inevitably change over time MUST have some sort of Operating Manuel. A McDonald’s franchise has an operating manual. I was helping a friend clean-up his flooded home a couple weeks ago and he came upon his training manual from naval basic training…the U.S. Military has operating manuals.
So when a new legal assistant was about to start with our Firm in April that served as my personal deadline to finally get the Chicago Family Law Group, LLC’s Operating Manual tweaked and finalized. It ain’t perfect and it’s surely something this is being improved and evolving over time but it’s a key step in building the equity of my firm. Here’s the current Index of Procedures:
A. Court Procedures.
- Court Scheduling & Notice procedure.
- Post-Court Calendar & Order procedure.
- Notice of Service procedure.
B. Financial Procedures.
- Credit Card Processing procedure.
- Rocket Matter Invoice procedure.
- Monthly Billing procedure.
- Firm Billing Rules.
C. Legal Assistant Procedures.
- Assistant Start Day procedure.
- Assistant End Day procedure.
- Office Supplies Ordering procedure.
D. Marketing Procedures.
- Firm Referral Network Touch Plan.
E. New Prospect Intake Procedures.
- New Prospect Intake procedure.
F. Office Procedures.
- Open File procedure.
- Close File procedure.
- Daily U.S. Mail procedure.
- Fax Processing procedure.
- Out-of-Office Staff procedure.
- Document Scanning procedure.
Posted by Peter
on April 02, 2013
law firm management
Who remembers the Great Chicago Flood of 1992? I do. I was actually a senior in high school at the time and for those of you who don’t recall here’s a link for you. Basically some dredge and piling work being done on the Chicago River resulted in some old utility tunnel being damaged with many inter-connected tunnels that ran under large portions of Loop office buildings being flooded. I owned a cheesy “I Survived the Chicago Flood” T-shirt for many years thereafter.
My law firm survived a flood just last week. You don’t really expect flooding on the 32nd Floor of a Loop office building but that 33rd Floor above us does have a kitchen and bathrooms that use running water and pipes in our ceiling that deliver that water. Well, sometimes pipes leak…profusely!
Here’s how my firm survived the Flood of 2013:
- Our Practice is in the Cloud. This is such a key productivity issue for days you’re sick or to access documents when in court and, YES, to survive a flood. My associate attorney and I were displaced for 3-4 days but our work product was in same place it always is: Google Apps, DropBox, Rocket Matter. Our telephones are routed through Answeringservice.com which can be forwarded anywhere.
- Mobile Computing & Home Office. One lesson I took from our flood is that I should invest more in making sure every staff member has adequate mobile computing or home office computing options. I likely should invest in 2-3 laptops or tablets for general mobile computing with court appearances and such but also for emergency work at home circumstances. Because my associate attorney’s work at home set-up was a little lacking because I hadn’t given her the tools she needed and she wasn’t used to working at home. I have worked at home a lot over the years and enjoyed an extremely productive time working from home.
- Check Your Insurance. Thankfully most of damage caused by the flood was to the office structure itself and not to the contents of our office. Meaning, the office owner essentially damaged itself which they repaired themselves. Some items on the floor of our space were damaged which we submitted through the main tenant’s (we’re a subtenant) insurance policy. Check your coverage. If I would have had to buy several new computers or such, that would have been a big problem.
- Don’t Hold Client Trust Property/Documents. In a family law practice such as ours it’s almost never necessary to have a client’s original documents such as tax returns, wills, etc. This sort of paperwork is what could have been damaged by flooding.
- No Excuses…Get it Done. I so admire people who have success despite unforeseen adversity and that was the fun, flood challenge I faced. Remember the year when New England Patriot QB Tom Brady tore his ACL in week 1 and yet the Pats still went on to have an 11-5 season? Same with our flood or the day you’re sick or the day your computer crashes; be ready.
- Know Thy Landlord, Building Management Company. Almost all these guys are pretty good at signing a lease and cashing a rent check but how do they handle flood clean-up and repair? I give props to both our landlord and the building’s management company at 161 N. Clark, Chicago, IL. Yes, the flooding happened but the post-flooding reaction was very good. Check-out your situation in advance or when you’re looking for office space to be sure you’re covered when the sky is clear.
Posted by Peter
on March 06, 2013
law firm management
False Urgency is the biggest deficiency that I need to stamp-out in my Firm right now. And I mean internally (myself and our staff) and externally (clientele). What do I mean when I say ‘False Urgency’? I mean simply the many things from staff interruptions to unscheduled client calls that hinder the efficient use of time…and that’s the main stock-in-trade of a legal services business. It really goes back to the old Important vs. Urgent continuum…I want to be spending far more time on intentional, scheduled important matters instead of unscheduled, urgent but not important matters.
And I think it’s a pretty easy fix that I just need to implement. How?
Automate your calendar. I’ve been meaning to sign-up for timetrade.com for months. I used it as a free trial some time ago and then with various changes in my firm had let it expire. Basically it lets you put a simple button on your Website and then integrates with your electronic calendar so a prospect or client clicks through your calendar for meeting times you’ve set into your calendar in advance. I have no relationship with timetrade it’s just the product I’ve used and seen used in the past and the price is only $49 annually.
Train your clients. Include some ‘Client Responsibilities’ along with verbal direction to clients up-front regarding how meetings and telephone conferences are handled & NOT handled. For example, last week I took a spur-of-the-moment call from a client whom another attorney in the office had been corresponding with on some legal discovery. And he starts peppering me with questions that really should have been asked of the other lawyer on the case and I just sort of nodded and said yes to his questions. And the net result of that sort of conversation is basically 15 minutes of wasted time. If that call was set in advance through timetrade or scheduled through my legal assistant with meeting specifics set out in advance that time would have been far more productive.
Define a narrow emergency exception to the above. Basically this is the one exception to the above, like in family law land if some ex-wife has just grabbed the kids, has plane tickets to Russia, and is threatening to never let you see your 9-year-old daughter again. Or the folks from DCFS just showed up and want to take your kid. But this is also part of the TRAINING in #2…and this should be a very narrow exception.
Posted by Peter
on February 16, 2013
law firm management
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Posted by Rob
on May 19, 2012
law firm management
To my surprise, my iPad has become an indispensible part of my practice. I had an iPad long before I went into business for myself and in my never-ending quest to reduce costs via saving on paper, postage, ink, and the like, I turned to the technology at my disposal to run my practice.
From time to time, I’ll post here the various ways I’ve incorporated my iPad and other mobile devices into my practice including what I’ve found helpful and what you should stay away from, and I can think of no better way to start this endeavor than by writing about everyone’s favorite topic: getting paid.
Enter Square. Square is an application that can be loaded on iPads, iPhones, and Android devices that allows you to accept credit card payments directly on your mobile device. It’s simple. Square is a free application available through the App Store or Android Market. Once the application is downloaded on your device, Square sends you a card reader that plugs into your phone’s input jack. Once you link your Square account to your business account, all you have to do is start swiping cards and the money appears in your account by the next morning.
The Good: I can accept payments via credit or debit cards anywhere I have a connection to wireless internet or 3G. Once I have a client ready to sign up, all I have to do to get my retainer fee is swipe the client’s credit card (this is a no no for bankruptcies). More and more people are leaving their checkbooks at home. It’s always to your advantage to seal the deal as soon as possible.
The Bad: Square gets 2.75% of every transaction you make. That’s a significant fee—over a full percentage point of what my bank would charge for a similar service. My bank’s device, however, has to remain tethered to the wall in order to be used. So use Square as a last resort. If the client has cash on hand, take it. And remember, checks often bounce. I’ll take guaranteed money any day, even if it means I lose a little on the front end.
Posted by Peter
on October 11, 2011
, law firm management
A couple re-posts here that I found enlightening…
The article title is a piece from the NYTimes here looking at methods doctors are using to run better businesses. The 4 business tips from the piece are:
- Limit staff costs;
- Spread-out expenses;
- Go electronic; and,
- Monitor and tweak as needed.
I know only the basics about a medical education but I do find that dentists and doctors generally are better business people than lawyers, not sure why. Two things really stick-out to me whenever I make a visit to the dentist/doctor. First, there’s usually excellent delegation and specialization. Thinking about my dentist just because I’ve seen her more recently, there’s a receptionist, a dental assistant, a person who deals with billing, and the dentist. I’m most impressed by the fact that the dentist doesn’t do anything other than the real dentistry work where she’s needed for a fairly brief time so her value is absolutely maximized….all greeting/prep/billing is done by others. Second, and I’m being a tad repetitive but I think the point is critical, someone other than the doctor/dentist is wholly responsible for financial matters. With one exception I cannot recall ever discussing money issues with my doctor/dentist. Lawyers can learn a lot through a trip to the dentist to get their teeth cleaned.
And finally, Keeping the Cash Flowing: A Dozen Tips for Getting Clients to Pay More Promptly. My favorite were:
- Make it easy for the client to pay;
- Consider delivering invoices in person for significant clients;
- Create prompt payment incentives or slow payment disincentives;
- Be the squeaky wheel.
Many points of review for me but one item I’m absolutely using which is new for our billing procedure is “Provide in your engagement agreement that you will charge their credit card or process the withdrawal for the full amount of the invoice 10 days after sending it out.” Get a credit card on the file and get a hold on some money if there’s a payment delay/problem.
Posted by Peter
on September 29, 2011
law firm management
Checkout the article HERE about running a virtual law practice that appears in this month’s Illinois Bar Journal…the flagship magazine of the Illinois State Bar Association. Wow, the author’s name is the same as mine…small world.
Tell me if you need a copy or password help.
Posted by Peter
on September 14, 2011
law firm management
That’s Whopper with a capital “W” meaning the proper noun that you purchase at Burger King. And I’ll admit it, I had 2 Whoppers for dinner last Thursday night. It’s not something I recommend regularly at 670 calories a pop but it was my last hard training day before last weekend’s Lake Geneva Triathlon and I hadn’t had much lunch and my wife and I were going swimming that evening, and, well it just happened.
My little trip to Burger King got me thinking about a good restaurant analogy used by Rjon Robbins on a recent coaching call. He compared a “Hamburger only” restaurant with an “Order anything you want” restaurant and used that comparison to argue in favor of greater specialization in your law practice.
He made 2 primary points with one that I’d surely considered before but the other being really an expansive/new perspective for me:
First, a niche specialization implies greater expertise or skill. I get that…from McDonalds serving the best french fries to recently consulting with a highly regarded neurosurgeon when a family member of mine had brain surgery instead of heading to the family practitioner down the street. I think most people get that…Specialist > Generalist.
But the more eye-opening-to-me perspective was his view that you must put the success of your legal services business ahead of serving the “order anything you want” clients. And as I sit here this view isn’t hard to understand that, sure, the success of my law firm SHOULD be more important than the whims of certain clients. Yet how many of us have bent over backwards for clients and let client demands drive our lives and often our practices into the ground?? Just think of the difference between representing 50 divorce clients vs. 50 totally disparate client matters. For the sake of argument lets assume the same fees are generated from either bunch of 50 cases, but, my goodness, the 50 divorces would likely be what 10% of the work of the 50 totally disparate matters (maybe less). That is a huge difference in simple net profits alone not to mention issues like office policies or procedures that would allow the 50 divorce cases to be handled easier and easier over time whereas the 50 unique cases would be a hard, start-from-scratch slog each time….so remember: My law firm business > “order anything you want” clients.
Posted by Peter
on August 02, 2011
law firm management
Our federal legislature hasn’t been too confidence inspiring of late…as of 10pm Washington, D.C. time the House has just passed the debt reduction legislation with the Senate likely to follow suit Tuesday at noon. For those of you keeping score at home that’s less than 12 hours before the United States of America would default on debt and face a myriad of treacherous financial results. A crappy, last-minute compromise.
And yet a ton of lawyers do the same thing every day…don’t do it!
This is a repeat post triggered by an excellent presenter at the child welfare CLE I attended Friday. I wrote about this topic previously: Your Most Important Lawyering Occurs Outside the Courtroom. The question she posed was: Are you a hearing-based lawyer? Meaning, are you like Congress and just scrambling at the last minute to slap something together or are you giving your clients well-considered and intentional representation based on their goals and not the court’s schedule.
I agree with this quote from the program:
The most important stuff does not happen at court hearings but rather between the court hearings.