Archive for category: Law Firm Management

Don’t bury your head in a desk and forget about marketing

Categories: Law Firm Management - Tags: , ,

By: Andrea Rothamel

With each passing day, the business environment becomes increasingly competitive.  We are working longer and harder to complete services and products for clients, consumers and customers.  If we put 100% of our time and effort into the business as it is, failing to recognize the importance of growing it through marketing and advertising, it will fail.  There is no future for a business without growth and a constant flow of incoming clients, consumers and customers.

No matter the company, there is a limited pool of people to target and multiple businesses all vying for them.  A medical malpractice attorney has to engage a client before another one retains the victim.  A pharmaceutical company needs to sell a particular medication to a patient before another one does (indirectly, yes.)  A supermarket needs to get a customer into its floor before he or she stops into a competitors instead.  Without being proactive and directly contacting your targets, someone else will steal your future.
# 1 – Keep in touch after you’ve done a great job!
Know that referrals are an integral part of any business and must be watered just like a plant.  Treat your clients, consumers or customers right, ethically and professionally, then they will return and pass on their good experiences to others.  This goes for both product and service based businesses.  Unfortunately, this is not enough.  If you don’t remind them of your existence, they will forget you amidst crazy daily life.  Give them a wonderful experience while interacting, then keep in touch over the years.  Some businesses send holiday or birthday cards or gifts.  Some make simple phone calls to say hello.  Handing a business card to someone ten years ago is not sufficient marketing.
#2 – Stay fresh with changing marketing tools
Update, update, update.  The world turns fast and your business must stay abreast of change.  Keep your look and marketing tools fresh and spicy.  Just because it worked years ago, doesn’t mean it will work today.  If you have no web presence, you are unfortunately quite low on the food chain these days.  If you have no photos or logo, or references readily available, you are limping behind too many companies.  Get on it!
I witnessed an organization who, as a marketing tool, sent an antiquated, boring, lifeless gift to clients every year.  It seemed as if it was a staple for decades, lacking flavor or pop, one which my grandmother would’ve tossed into the trash and I promise you, she never tossed anything.  Updating this annual gift generated leads exponentially.  If the recipients were the same, why?  Read on…
#3 – Re-evaluate your business and focus
Do a quick business analysis with respect to your target market.  Are you looking for children, adults, males, females, video gamers, trucking companies, physicians or aliens? Your marketing tools need be useful and memorable for that specific target.  Do not mail a piece of paper with a ballerina on it to an adventurist.  Send a utility knife with your name and number on it!  If you are marketing for foodies, send a utensil or measuring table for the fridge.  This will keep your name in front of clients and those around them.  This is how pens became such a staple.  People will throw them in a bag or on a desk and actually use them.  Oftentimes they are shared or inadvertently taken and your business has just picked up another potential client.  Even if you think you are targeting the whole world, find something updated and useful.  Think:  Would I keep this if I received it?
Keep your name in their faces, keep your interaction positive and helpful, keep up to date and refresh your marketing.  If you bury your head in a desk and ignore the marketing world, your business will be a ghost.

Are you the product or cause of workplace unhappiness?

Categories: Law Firm Management - Tags: , ,
By: Andrea Rothamel
Whether you are working feverously to cover business expenses, or to achieve your own personal economic goals, most people today are having much difficulty in meeting their financial needs.  With divorce rates skyrocketing, a dramatic rise in newborns with special needs, and diseases wreaking havoc more often than before, it is understandable that the majority of people are at their wits-end in attempting to maintain some semblance of a healthy personal life.  The pursuit of financial security, satisfaction in your career, internal bliss and comfort within your soul, isn’t simple.  Being happy doesn’t come easy.
Most of us spend more time in the office than we do with our families, getting a good night sleep, or both combined.  If you are unhappy at work, you are spending more than 50% of your day miserable.  And you probably have good reasons to be less than joyful, or so you think.
No stranger has any right to question your reasons for being unhappy.  It is quite possible that outside influences are affecting your daily life, negatively.  It is probable that you have a long list of complaints which are valid, none of which stem from your actions.  However, I urge you to think about this:
Are you spilling your misery over onto everyone around you?  If so, you are, in fact, spreading the despair disease.  Conversely, if others are affecting you, they are infecting you.
What is the antidote?  YOU ARE!
Fostering a positive environment within your workplace can change this vicious cycle.  If you are in a bad mood and all of your employees or co-workers are smiling and helpful to you, this will brighten your day.  If they are in a bad mood and you shoot them a smile or a thank you, you will brighten their day.  Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?  It doesn’t matter.  Be the sun, the bright shining star, who sprouts flowers from the carpet and expels beautiful floral fragrances of kindness all over the office.  Your employer, employees, co-workers and clients will value that with deep gratitude, respect and loyalty. You can be the catalyst to better days for yourself and others.
There are valid and quantitative reasons why so many tech giants are now fostering playtime and joy within the confines of their office walls.  It increases productivity, loyalty and entices the best of the best to come join the company.  Enjoying life causes unexpected bursts of innovation, which, in turn, creates lucrative productivity for the company.
For those in the legal industry, as well as many others, who are thinking that the sector is adversarial and combative at the core, yes, that may be true.  It was pointed out to me that the antagonistic nature of certain businesses breed the thick skin mentality that is difficult to avoid.  Again, this may be true.  A certain level of insensitivity may be mandatory in your career, however, save it for the right time and place.  Do not make the mistake of targeting your family, friends, employer, employee or co-workers because you forgot to turn off the switch.  The people on this list are not your adversaries.
The best way to see it is this:  When a shopper goes to the supermarket and grabs a carton of eggs, most check to see if any are broken, right?  Why?  It’s not the loss of one little egg you are concerned about, it’s more likely that the one little egg has, or will, leak onto each and every egg in the carton, then maybe into your cart or on your hands and clothes.  Don’t be the broken egg!

Virtual Receptionist?

Categories: Law Firm Management - Tags: ,

By: Sibila D. Hujic

While most people say that voicemail is good enough for their business, we have to ask ourselves, how many people really leave or even like to leave voicemails? I know I don’t, do you? I am sure that if you really need something, you will leave a voicemail, but that is not the voicemail I am talking about. I am talking about the voicemail from a potential client calling to find out about your services and if you can help them. Once they can not reach you or speak to someone, they will continue down their list and call another lawyer.

Having a virtual receptionist is something to think about. We use a wonderful virtual receptionist, and unfortunately she can not answer Sibila & Co’s phone at all times, since she is a human after all and does need breaks, at least that’s what she tells me anyway. Every single time that my office is closed and the calls go to voicemail, I find that I had numerous unique numbers that called and only one or two messages. My conclusion, I lost business, while that might be okay on a holiday, it is most certainly not okay on a daily basis. It is important to me and my company that when clients call, they speak to someone every time they call.

As far as we are concerned, virtual receptionists get a big YES from us!

 

Do You Have Thick Skin?

Categories: Law Firm Management - Tags: , ,

By: Andrea Rothamel

Interviewer: Do you have thick skin?

Candidate: Hmmm…Yes?

Often am I hearing from job-seekers that this question is posed during interviews. It serves multiple purposes as such: An interviewer is proactively setting a tone for the interoffice dynamics, it serves as a warning to a potential employee that there exists a hostile work environment, and to confirm that the candidate has a strong and solid personality, capable of handling pressure.

The dreaded “Do you have thick skin” question is a bad idea and more importantly, it will fail to help procure a productive, long-term, valuable employee.

First, setting a negative tone will immediately send a potential employee into the defensive zone. It will instill fear and concern in the candidate. If hired, the dread continues. Yes, some owners, CEOs, managers and supervisors want to rule with an iron fist, feed an ego, or merely appease an overzealous type A personality, however, this management style will not help the business move forward. Setting aside all moral issues, a fearful employee will fail to make decisions on their own, fail to progress autonomously within the position, and will always be on the defensive. In such a volatile job market, employees are fearful of being unemployed as it is; there is no need to fuel the fire. There is a reason why we are seeing a progression of new companies embracing unusual office dynamics to boost productivity (ie; slides replacing stairs, bowling alleys in break rooms, free food and drink, etc…) They say a happy wife, a happy life. I say happy employees, happy business bank accounts.

Second, this question serves as a warning to a potential employee that there exists a hostile work environment. The interviewer seemingly is doing the candidate a favor by removing the element of surprise, if hired. I think not. People inherently want to do a good job, merely because they feel a personal sense of accomplishment, but they also want happiness on a larger scale. So do employers, want both accomplishment/productivity and joy. Most people spend more time at work than we do on the home front, or even on ourselves. Our jobs and businesses are our families, oftentimes taking priority over actual families. In order to run a successful business, both employer and employee must be motivated, passionate, and WANT to reach goals. An expectation of an employee to run the extra mile or appease a difficult client when they are being unjustly ridiculed, when they don’t want to be in the office, or when they despise what they do for a living, is preposterous. If employees are working in hostile environments, they can’t enjoy going to work each day. They won’t wake up with the enthusiasm they naturally seek, and therefore, won’t be enthusiastic to reach goals and make positive career and business decisions. Employees are a reflection of a company, as much as an owner, a CEO, or any executive or manager. Miserable employees create miserable clients.

Positivity breeds productivity.

Third, the interviewer wants to confirm that the candidate has a strong and solid personality, capable of handling pressure. Many people are out of work and employers seek to find moldable and flexible employees, capable of handling responsibilities at a minimal cost, willing to take initiative and willing to do anything to get the job done. Interviewers want to know if a little yelling will break them down into tears, because an owner, CEO, manager, or supervisor may be less than sensitive or sympathetic to individuals. Clients too, may be less than considerate. However, tolerating hostile environments by no means clearly equates to having the capability of handling high pressure situations. They are not the same. A quiet, meek, non-confrontational employee may very well accept workplace abuse out of fear, however, this does not make for an exceptional employee. Some may just ignore the attack, just as much as they are ignoring the work they are behind in, because they simply don’t care. Conversely, an employee tearing over a lashing may have the passion and motivation to succeed which is necessary for the company to grow.

So what now? It’s simple. Terminate employees who are insubordinate, disrespectful, tardy, unproductive and lazy. Foster those who genuinely have something to offer the company. Create a positive and productive workplace for employer and employee. In the event an employer chooses to say thank you for a job well done, give a free day off, recognize an employee going above and beyond, the receiving employee would be more apt to extending his or herself once again. A cohesive team is what is needed in any company. A myriad of people with thick enough skin to tolerate volatile personalities long enough to get a paycheck will not create progress. It will create a location for employees to do minimal work, to get a paycheck and certainly fail to help grow the greater cause; grow and strengthen the business.

If the revolving door is burning out (which is a massive loss of time, productivity and finances, in recruiting, hiring, training, etc.), most of the employees get headaches from the silent eye-roll they so frequently commence behind closed doors, the interoffice dynamics should be evaluated and addressed. Fear may motivate temporarily, but kindness generates long lasting respect, consideration, motivation, loyalty and the characteristics of people any business genuinely needs to soar and truly find success.

5 Questions You Must Ask When Interviewing

Categories: Law Firm Management - Tags: ,

By Sibila D. Hujic

Sometimes interviews go great and you take on a an employee just to find out that a month later, the person you hired is not what you expected. Job interviews have become generic. Your potential hires will present themselves in the best light on the day of their interview and if they are smart, they most likely prepared answered to the questions that are most commonly asked. Questions such as what your strengths? What are your weaknesses? (of course we all know that a person will answer with a negative quality that can be presented as a positive for the employer, i.e., being a workaholic, a perfectionist.) If you ask the questions that are commonly asked at interviews you will not get a true reaction. Only by true reactions, will you be able to get an insight into your potential employee. Asking questions that are outside of the box will help you weed out the people who can’t handle the pressure. You want an employee that will hear your question and rise to the challenge.

I gathered a few great questions that will surprise the person you are interviewing. It is not about a right answer, it is about an answer that was prepared before they showed up for the interview. Asked all the normal questions that you usually ask, but throw in a few curveballs and see the reaction. Large companies such as Google, Goldman Sachs, Aflac, and Apple. are using questions that are different than the standard questions that have been used in the past. I know these are not law firms but people are people and I believe someone with a creative mind and up for the challenge will be much more beneficial to your firm then someone who gives generic answers to generic questions. Hiring and then having to fire within a short period of time is a waste of both time and money. Finding the right employee is such a matter of good quality observing and listening.

It has to be said, obtaining references to be able to speak to is a beautiful thing, but please aware that it is not all that uncommon for potential hires to mislead you with providing a cell phone number that does not belong to the person you believe you are calling. When possible ask for the an office phone number instead of cell phone. Make sure to call, never skip this step.

Questions to ask:

“Can you explain to me what has happened in this country during the last 5 years?”

“Why do you think only a small percentage of the population makes over $150K?”

“If you got on an elevator where everyone was facing back, what would you do?”

“If you were to rank quality, customer satisfaction, and safety in order of importance, how would you rank them?”

“Why is your GPA not a 4.0?”

Associates & Marketing

Categories: Law Firm Management - Tags: ,

By Sibila D. Hujic

Business development among associates is different with every firm. Some law firms require it other do not. However, associates failing to bring in clients has been a recurring conversation topic among my clients. What can be done?

Lets look at some of the most common excuses that associates give when it comes to why they can’t bring in clients.

“I don’t want to be partner.”

“I want to focus on my craft.”

“I am a terrible salesman.”

“Every minute outside of the office is taken.”

“I can’t bill as many hours and spend time on bringing in clients.”

“It is not in my job description.”

Generating business is a skill, and like any other skill can be approved upon. Start with making it a part of every associates job description. Be clear on what is expected, a few hours dedicated to business development efforts is all one really needs.

Encourage your associates to join different organizations, blog, write articles, give presentations and so on. Teach them to focus on the people. Most importantly focus on your clients, word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool. Sometimes people skills are more important than sales skills. For associates that need it, having them take a sales webinar or two will not hurt. Help your associates improve and grow as individuals and your firm will grow right along side them.

Excuses are unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Saying one has “no time” might have been a valid excuse at one point but is it not anymore. We all have 24 hours in a day and it is up to us to structure our days in a manner that results in the most productivity. Make sure that business development is a priority for everyone in your office.

Multitasking?

Categories: Law Firm Management - Tags: , ,

By Sibila D. Hujic

The concept of multitasking has been around for as long as I can remember. While running a focus group, I received an emergency e-mail that needed to be immediately addressed. I took a moment to answer the e-mail while I actively listened to what was being said in response to my questions. I thought I did a great job! Good thing I record all my focus groups because when I listened back to that particular group I was aware of everything that was said except for about five minutes in the middle. I realized that was when I was replying to the email. How is that possible I wondered? I was actively listening.

After some research I found out that multitasking is actually a myth. People can’t really multitask. According to scientists the human brain can not perform two tasks that require high level brain functions at once. So trying to listen and retain what is being said and trying to formulate a response to an e-mail will not work. Low level functions such as breathing and walking are not considered multitasking which is often the response I get when I try share what I learned.

So what really happens when we think we are multitasking? Instead of doing two things simultaneously, we are actually switching from one task to another really quickly. You are switching back and forth so quickly that you might not even notice but this increases the occurence of errors. Things do slip between the cracks and the loss of focus will add up. While you may feel as if your are being more productive, you are not. The most efficient way to complete your tasks and projects is one at a time. Finish it completely before moving on to the next. This method will lower the chance of mistakes and slip ups.

FaceTime & Skype Meetings

Categories: Law Firm Management - Tags: , , ,

By Sibila D. Hujic

No one seems to schedule fifteen minute meetings, meetings are usually scheduled for thirty to sixty minutes in most law firms. Time goes into scheduling a meeting and sometimes meetings run over their expected time or the client is late and precious minutes are wasted.

While I am not saying that Skype is appropriate for every situation and meeting, I think it is a great tool that is not used nearly enough. If  a potential client would like to come in but you aren’t sure if it’s a case that you want to take on, there is no better way to show the client that you are willing to give them your time and save your time then having a meeting on Skype. If you simply brush away a client just because you are not interested in their current matter, they will not come back to you with another matter in the future.

Skype is free for the most part and very simple to you use. If you do not have a company that handles your interviewing, when looking to add staff, Skype is perfect for the first interview. You can interview six people, ten minutes each in an hour and weed out the ones that you are not interested in. Imagine how long it would have taken if you had those six individuals make appointments to come in.

Best part, you do not have to be in your office. You can use Skype from your laptop, your home computer or your cell phone. This gives you the flexibility that in person meetings do not provide. It is very rare that an in person meeting lasts less than twenty minutes. Your Skype meetings can be as short or as long as you would like. There is no walking the client to the door, but a much faster, “we will be in touch, have a nice day.”

Offering no obligation consultations through Skype also provides convince to your potential clients, they will not have to spend time traveling to your office and are much more likely to hire you as their counsel due to the fact that they were able to have their meeting with you quickly and did not have to wait for an in person appointment to have their questions and concerns answered. If a client needs more attention, you can always schedule an in person meeting later on.

Skype is a great tool to utilize. Get creative! If you have to make an international call, Skype is perfect. The instant messaging service is a great way to stay in touch with your staff and colleagues. Want to improve customer service? Provide your clients with a Skype button, allowing them to contact you and your staff. Take a few minutes out of your day and be available to talk with your clients and watch client satisfaction increase. There are many options for video calling, I love them all, but Skype remains one of the best choices.

Say No to Time Vamps

Categories: Law Firm Management - Tags: , ,

By Sibila D. Hujic

interruptions in the form of people, phone calls, email, snail mail and text messages are constantly eating away at your time. These interruptions have a way of taking over and the day that you originally planned is gone in the blink of an eye. Take control and don’t let it happen.

Stick with your planned day as much as possible, carve out uninterrupted time. The morning is the best, take a few hours and simply focus on high value tasks that can not be delegated or outsourced. The best time is 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM, leave your phone on DND (Do Not Disturb), turn your cell of and focus. Unless it’s an emergency, the incoming interruption should be tacked on the end of your to do list or delegated. Do not let demands from clients and other take control of your time and day.

What do I do about clients that only want to speak to me? I get this question almost every day. The trick is to keep having your staff return phone calls and try to help the client, encourage them to develop their own relationship with the client, if the client is insistent on speaking with you, make sure to have your staff get the reason and have then interject if they have the answer. If all fails, return the call, maybe it was something only you could answer. Make sure that the clients are told that you are working on their case and to be able to work on their case you might not be able to answer all calls personally. Most will understand and begin calling your secretary or your paralegal with their questions and updates. There will be clients that pressure your staff with their ‘emergencies’, don’t let your staff be pushed around, teach them to stand their ground and be firm.

Acceptable interruptions include court hearings, statute of limitations, NOC deadlines, No-Fault deadline and other situations that if left unaddressed may result in a malpractice lawsuit. If it’s not an emergency, leave it for later, spend your time on tasks and projects that matter. If it is an emergency determine if you MUST handle it or if it can be delegated for someone to take care of today.

One of the most powerful time management tools, is the ability to say ‘no’.

Same Time Every Time Billing

Categories: Law Firm Management - Tags: , ,

By: Sibila D. Hujic

When do your credit card bills arrive? How about your telephone bill? There is a sense of urgency that is created when you receive your bill the same time every month. If my credit card bills arrived sporadically every few months or twice in one month, regardless of the 30 day due time, I would just let it sit and wait for the reminder notice. If I am getting a credit card at different times each month or maybe every few months, I might be tempted to wait and see how long it will take for me to receive a reminder phone call or a notice. Getting paid is important, I have never had an attorney disagree with me, however an average firm takes 180 days from the date of service to receive payment. Leaving uncollected money on the table is much more common than you think.

First and for most, make sure that your engagement letter is clear regarding billing and payment. I even suggest highlighting from time to time. Next, bill promptly, no exceptions. A bill should arrive at the same time every month, just like a credit card bill. Even if the client does not owe anything, a bill should be sent with zero monies owed. When a bill shows up at the same time every month the sense of urgency to make sure the bill is paid will increase. Three to four days before before payment is due have an employee or a collections company call as a friendly reminder, and make sure that they received the bill. If the bill wasn’t received fax or email. Make sure that the calls come at the same time every time. When your phone bill isn’t paid, you will receive a phone call asking for payment, you will receive the phone call at the same time. Stay consistent. NEVER allow unpaid bills to accumulate. If a client is unresponsive, send a letter:

Dear [Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr.] [CLIENT'S LAST NAME]:
 
Re:
 
Life can be so hectic at times that even our habits fall by the wayside. Many times, people call with requests, and we must drop everything to satisfy our obligations. Please let this serve as a reminder that we are awaiting receipt of this month’s payment in regard to the above. If this letter crossed paths with your check, please accept my apologies for this friendly reminder. Thank you for your assistance.
 
Sincerely yours,

Continue to send letters each month thereafter. Assign a person or company to follow up consistently. In my experience the consistent phone calls and letters result in payment on average within three months, however there will be times where clients will refuse to pay. As I am sure you know suing a client for unpaid fees will increase the risk of a legal malpractice counterclaim or an ethical grievance, the best thing to do is cut your loses and move on. Make good choices about whom you sue and when, sometimes it is just not worth the headache. If the amount of unpaid bills is too large to walk away, proceed with caution.

Happy billing!

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