Case Tracking Client Portal

Categories: Law Firm Organization - Tags: , ,

By Sibila Hujic

Have you ever stayed after hours or came in on the weekend and your productivity sky rocketed? You were able to focus on one task at a time and complete it fully without any interruptions. Your phone was not ringing off the hook, the incoming e-mail is not as heavy as the regular week days, all allowing you the efficiency that you don’t experience regularly.

I’ve coached attorneys on more efficient use of staff, creating standardized systems and procedures for the operation of the office, time management skills, including scheduling time for uninterrupted work, (I suggest, between 8:00 AM and 12:00 PM). Using email or instant messaging to assign tasks and delegate. Prioritizing your goals and assignments, as well as teaching your staff to prioritize to increase proficiency. Attorneys that have followed the guidelines were happy with the results, others reported that it was very hard to ignore the phone calls and emails during the scheduled quiet times. This was a problem I presented to my staff, since we are in the business of making attorneys lives easier we created a service which is guaranteed to keep your clients happy and your interruptions to a minimum.

The client portal we created will allow your clients to access their case information at anytime, send and receive messages, upload and download information, as well keep you updated on their progress and status, you will be able to do the same. The client portal page is a separate page from Sibila & Co., called www.casetrackingclientportal.com. We will manage all the incoming information, that you will be able to monitor and access at all times. If a client sends a message updating medical provider information, we will save you and your staff the time and update it in your system for you. I’ve even witnessed clients calling the owner of a firm just to get the fax number! All updates and incoming information will be sent to you in a summary email at the beginning or at the end of each day for your review. This system will allow your clients to feel more connected with their case. Your office will be able to maximize the use of all its staff hours. Our staff has years of experience as law firm support and if there is a problem that we can not resolve, you will be emailed and contacted. Our solution will get you back in charge of your time.

Visit our Case Tracking page and send us any questions you may have. We have developed this solution with you in mind, any service we offer can be customized! I invite you to try this system or a similar one, you will not regret it!

Law Firm Start Up

Categories: Law Firm Start Ups - Tags: , ,

By Sibila D. Hujic

Have you decided to take the plunge? Become your own boss? Be in charge of your own destiny? In other words, have you decided to start your own law firm? Regardless of whether you are fresh out of law school or an experienced attorney getting ready to venture out on your own, I have a few suggestions for you, that have been beneficial to other attorneys when they were in the exact same position as you are now.

Be flexible. It might sound easy but for some it takes a lot of practice. In the start-up phase of your law firm, a lot of things are going to be changing. Some of your plans will work out, some of your plans will not. You might have planned on renting an office but your budget had a different plan or partnership arrangements might have not worked out exactly as you planned. Truth is, this is a part of life. Life doesn’t work out the way we plan nor is it fair at all times. Being flexible and taking on every situation as it comes and being able to adapt and change with time is one of the greatest tools. When change of plans is met with resistance it will often times create panic, chaos and unhappiness. Try to be flexible, look ahead and move toward something better. Adapt to all new situations as they arise.

Sell yourself and your law firm. Regardless of the business you are in, there will be a form of sales involved. When in comes to law firms and attorneys, it is selling yourself and your law firm to your potential clients. Will potential clients like you? Will they feel at ease retaining your as their counsel? Will they get the impression that you are going to do the best you can for them? Clients will pick up on your enthusiasm about your law firm and what you can do for them. If you were the client, would you hire yourself? Most attorneys are focused on being the best they can be, which is great, but make sure to keep in mind how clients will view you and your firm in relation to their case.

Keep overhead costs low. When starting out make sure to pay attention to your spending. Often times attorneys will get wrapped up in the excitement of their new firm and justify spending more than they had planned. Stick to your business plan, that is what it’s there for. (Make a business plan, if you already have not done so.) Utilize technology over staff for assistance. Work with legal support that you do not need to commit to and can use whenever necessary. Be patient, you will see the business will come but until then keep your costs as low as possible. No matter what people say, your clients will not be able to tell the difference between HammerMill Copy Paper at $48.99 a case and Staples Copy Paper which is $34.99 a case. I’ve tested it, even the attorneys can’t tell! Speaking of paper, take a look at my Paperless Law Firm blog, if your are just starting out, going paperless is something to consider. Law firms are moving in the paperless direction and paperless courts are already on their way. I have helped many law firms make the transition to paperless offices, start now and you will be ahead of the curve.

Let others help. You can not do everything on your own and even if you could, you really don’t want to. Enlist family and friends to help you. If you know attorneys that already run successful law firms, give them a call ask for advise and speak honestly. There are many legal consultants out there, waiting to give you advise and walk you through the challenges that you will face. I am at your disposal and would love to help or refer you to someone who can.

Lastly, remember this is a business. Many lawyers are wonderful at what they do when it comes to practicing the law but may have weak points such as management, finances, planning or execution. To succeed, the quicker you acknowledge your weak points and recruit help the sooner you will be on your way to a fulfilling career. Document every action, telephone call and meeting. Summarizing all the information that relates to your files and your office will result in better planning and keep your office in order. Never rely on your memory, no matter how good it is. Be aware that some clients will try to play on your emotions and will try to get you to work for free, do not do it. It’s a wonderful thing to help your community and your loved ones but keep your bottom line in sight at all times, running a business sometimes requires you to make hard decisions. Give yourself the room to breathe, it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.

First Impressions Count

Categories: Law Firm Management, Networking - Tags: , ,

Sibila D. Hujic

The initial reaction to a webpage can either bring clients to you or drive them to other law firms. I’ve seen attorneys purchasing template websites, you know the one, usually it has the Manhattan sky scrapers in the background. Bad websites make me think of an attorney showing up to a meeting wearing mismatched clothes with holes in their shoes. Its an odd thought because most attorneys that I have worked with, take pride in their appearance and look sharp. So I wonder, why is it okay for your website to look less than impressive? Please no more sky line websites! Why does everyone keep picking that template?

Almost everyone will goes online to check out the law firm they are thinking about approaching regarding a legal matter. Chances are they found your firm online, among the many attorneys in your area, what will set you apart from the rest? Will you stand out? Or will you blend in with the rest of the generic websites that all look the same?

You only have one chance to create the best first impression possible. A clean, professional, and fast-loading site can ensure that the first impression will be a good one. A function that has worked really well for my clients has been making a website that clients can interact with. Allowing them to send an instant message through the website to ask a quick question or being able to fill out a request form. Some people may feel intimidated when contacting an attorneys office for the first time. Enabling them to send you a quick question on your website without any commitments will be exactly what they need to feel comfortable with your firm. I have seen this work wonderfully, once a law firm changes their template webpage to a custom built, good quality webiste with interaction abilities, the amount of clients received from internet advertising has gone through the roof.

You may be aprehensive, and your new clients might solely come in trhouh referrals but having a website that you can be proud of will only increase your client base. It simply can not hurt. There is so much competition out there. What does your website say about you? Please try it out for yourself. Take a look at a few websites, when you believe that a website looks good, do you spread that feeling to other areas, such as the websites content? How many times have you quickly dismissed a company just because you did not like the look of it?

Researchers have proved that a web user forms the first impression of a web page in as little as 50 milliseconds. The “halo effect” is often times applied in this situation. A person’s perception about one trait can lead to similar perceptions about another. The precognitive reaction is a physiological reaction casused by what is visible on the screen. Thus, carrying this first impression foward to conclude about other traits of a product or service is what usually occurs when a website is viewed. Users ignore evidence and give more importance to their initial feelings. In this case the initial feelings often times outweigh logic.

Invest time and money into your firms website. Carefully plan each piece of the site from the loading, to navigation and overall experience. Unless the first impression is favorable, visitors will be out of your site before they they even give you a chance. Your website is your first contact to a potential client, make the first impression count!

Job Descriptions

Categories: Law Firm Management - Tags: , , ,

By Sibila D. Hujic

Is the time spent creating job descriptions, time wasted or time well spent? Picture this. You walk into your office after a long day in court, to find your legal secretary working on your dictations, while your associate is dealing with the supplies shipment, opening and moving boxes. Immediately, you feel flustered and maybe angry. Why is your attorney doing your secretary’s job? He should be spending his time billing and on legal work. You turn to your secretary and ask her why she is not putting away the shipment? She looks up and simply replies, that is not her job and goes back to doing her work. You mind begins to spin, thoughts of firing your employee may enter, you tell your associate to go back to work, as you begin to deal with the shipment. Sound familiar?

The situation above and variations of it, is the reason why having job descriptions for your employees is important. During the hiring process, potential employees want to know what will be expected of them and how they will be evaluated. By spelling out the duties and responsibilities of the position you are offering, the chances of a situation like the above happening decrease greatly. When an employee accepts a job offer it is important that they know every aspect of the job that they will expected to perform. While it is impossible to list all specific duties, it is important to make the most comprehensive list possible. If you need  your paralegal to take out the garbage or wash the dishes time to time, don’t wait for them to become an employee to let them know that aspect of their job, because sometimes you will run into a person which will not take a job because he or she does not want deal with garbage and the dishes, resulting in valuable time lost. A clear job description will save time and money in the long run. Your employee will know exactly what they are signing up for, no surprises. Developing clear job descriptions is a part of good management and will help, both in the interviewing and terminating process.

When developing a job description be sure to include a general statement of duties. Followed by the most lengthy part which are the details of the job. Be as specific as you can be. Next, list the personality characteristics needed for the position. How important is personality to your firm? If you would like your employee to add to the overall positive spirit of your firm, don’t wish for it, make it clear that it is a part of the job. This will allow the potential employee to make a more informed decision when decided whether or not to accept the position. Also, be sure to describe who the employee will be managed by. Will they be reporting to you or your associates or maybe your office manager. Include information regarding evaluations and disciplinary systems, so that the employee knows everyone is treated equal and the very best is expected from everyone. Finally, make sure to include “And Other Duties as Assigned” in every job description, allowing you room to add duties as time goes by.

Develop job descriptions and keep them up to date. Keep it simple. Remember, this is a very valuable communication tool.

Motivating Employees

Categories: Law Firm Management - Tags: , , ,

By Sibila D. Hujic

Do you want to get the most out of your employees? Of course you do. Who doesn’t? This is where the concept of motivating employees comes in. Some business owners and managers do not see a need to focus or spend time motivating their employees. “I pay a competitive salary! Isn’t that enough?”

Unfortunately, the answer is, “No”. As I am sure you are aware, having a content employee is much more preferable to having a miserable one. Happy employees will benefit your firm in multiple ways, increased productivity, efficiency and growth, on top of creating a positive atmosphere within your firm. It only takes one unhappy employee to start and poisoning the minds of the rest of the staff and before you know it, great employees are leaving or demanding raise increases.

What is the recipe for a content employee? I wish there was a straightforward answer. The truth is, every person is different and therefore can be motivated in a different manner. I asked a paralegal at a small personal injury firm to rate her level of happiness at that firm. She rated it an eight out of ten. She went on to explain, that the reason that she was happy was not because of the salary or benefits but because her boss recognized when she did a good job, unlike her old boss who only acknowledged her mistakes. In this situation positive reinforcement encouraged this young woman to work harder.

Some low-cost ways to motivate and encourage your employees to be the best that they can be starts with one on one management. Get to know your staff and what would make their experience as your employee a positive one.

Be sure to recognize a job well done. Focus on the big picture and don’t sweat the small stuff. A forgotten comma in your dictated letter or that supplies have not been ordered yet and you are out of white out, are things that will not break your practice.

Let your staff know that you are okay with a little flexibility in their schedule from time to time. Allowing employees to come in early so they can leave early to make a doctor’s appointment or come in late and stay late. This small amount of flexibility will do wonders.

Closing the office a few hours earlier before a holiday. Simple and effective.

Casual dress days are a popular perk. Days where there are no client appointments announce a casual dress day, do it sporadically. There is nothing better than a day spent in jeans and a t-shirt.

Reward staff with more responsibility. Allow them to rise to the occasion. By expecting more from your employees you are bound to get more.

For a job well done, reward with time off. I know many people who would choose time off over a cash award. Experiment within your comfort level. Allow for early dismissals or late arrivals.

Break up the routine, every once in a while, have a pizza day or ice cream Fridays. These small rewards will increase motivation and get your staff excited.

Most importantly, say thank you, often.

Focusing on motivating employees will benefit your bottom line more than you can imagine. It is important to learn how to create a supportive work environment. There are as many motivation techniques as there are personalities in the world. I encourage you to speak to your staff and get some ideas on what they would appreciate the most. Be the boss that your employees rave about to their friends and family rather than being the boss that they complain about. Remember, potential clients are everywhere, ask yourself, “Would my staff recommend me to a friend or family member that needed an attorney?”

Cost-Effective Research

Categories: Legal Research - Tags: , ,

By Sibila D. Hujic

Westlaw and Lexis are the two big players in legal research but the prices are beyond reasonable! Even though I believe that legal research is not an area that attorneys should scrimp on, it never hurts to have more resources at your disposal. I looked into finding some cost effective legal research tools for your use in addition to Westlaw and Lexis.

ALSO
Casemaker Elite
Code of Federal Regulations
Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.)
Cornell’s Legal Information Institute
C|M|LAW Library
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals
Fastcase
Federal Courts Finder
Federal Register
Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure
Federal Rules of Evidence
Findlaw
Firstgov
GPO Access
Google Patents
Google Scholar
Hieros Gamos
Jenkins Law Library
Jureeka
Jurist
Justia
Law Library of Congress’ Guide to Law Online
LexisOne
Library of Congress
LoisLaw
Municipal Code Corporation
National Law Library
Oyez
Resource.org
The Internet Archive
Thomas
U.S. Supreme Court Opinions
United States Code
United States Government Manual
VersusLaw

* Cost-effective research tips when searching LexisNexis & Westlaw – Plan your search before you sign on. If you find yourself searching for more than ten minutes. Stop. Call the reference attorneys at Lexis and Westlaw. They will be able to suggest search terms and databases. They will also run a search for you and see if there are any hits. 1-800 45 LEXIS, 1-800-REF-ATTY (733-2889) (Westlaw)

I welcome comments, suggestions and additions. Thank you all for reading.

Performance Evaluations

Categories: Law Firm Management - Tags: , , , ,

By Sibila D. Hujic

Recently, my staff and I conducted a survey among our clients. We wanted to see how many law firms conducted performance evaluations. Out of the twenty firms we spoke to, almost all firms did conduct some type of evaluation. However, not one firm had a follow-up procedure in place, to make sure that improvements are made and goals are achieved.

Believe it or not, most employees welcome constructive criticism and once they are set on the right path. Most are willing to work toward improvement, once they understand what they need to change. The key is to be able to give a constructive rather than destructive performance evaluation. Most importantly and I can’t say it enough, be clear about your expectations. It is common for an employee to feel as though they are being attacked or unappreciated during an evaluation. Let them know that your goal isn’t to attach or nitpick but rather to help them improve and grow within your firm. You might want to start by pointing out strong points. Then ask your employee what they feel they need to improve on and ask them how you can help. Instead of being angry and upset, allow the employee the opportunity to improve and communicate with you. Make sure to repeat your expectations for improvement after each point.

When I conduct performance evaluations for clients, there always seems to be a degree of miscommunication between the employer and employee. My suggestion is simple. Be clear. If you are bothered by the fact that an employee comes in a few minutes late every day, mention it and be clear when communicating that it is not acceptable. If you have a good employee on your hands, you will notice a correction in behavior almost immediately.

The employee who does not change their behavior once you have addressed it, is the employee who will need a different approach. Lack of accountability is incredibly common in todays law firms, don’t let it happen in yours. Hold your employees accountable for repeat mistakes. Warn and then implement a write-up system, this will send a powerful message to the employee. If direct communication and a write-up fails to correct a behavior, its time to consider said employees place within your firm.

Regardless of the manner that you evaluate your employees, be sure to end your meeting with a list of items that must be improved within a reasonable amount of time. Make an appointment in your calendar to have a follow-up review, in order to make sure improvement was made. The performance evaluations are only half the battle, the other half is holding employees accountable for the improvement.

Encourage open communication with your employees. Avoid one-way communication. Let your staff ask questions and listen carefully. Ask your employees if you can make any improvements when delegating work and assigning tasks. Periodically ask yourself if you are being as clear as possible about what is acceptable, what is not.

Personally, I enjoy the use of evaluation forms. Let your staff fill out a form evaluating themselves as well as a form for you and management. Make sure to fill out a form for yourself as the owner and for your employees. These forms do not need to long, jot down a few questions that are important and relevant to your firm and there you have it, there is your evaluation. Compare your forms, discuss the discrepancies and develop realistic goals for improvement and change. If you have trouble coming up with questions, do not hesitate to contact me, I would be more than happy to forward a few different evaluations your way.

Your Associates and Potential Clients

Categories: Law Firm Management - Tags: , ,

By Sibila D. Hujic

A few weeks ago I witnessed a conversation, which I must admit, left me puzzled.  I overheard a conversation between al secretary and an associate attorney at a small law firm. A client walked into said law firm and asked the secretary if he could ask an attorney a question about an accident that he had recently. The secretary, aware of how important potential clients are did what was appropriate. Took his information down, put it in the system and went to let the associate attorney know.

The associate was working on a motion, I believe, when the secretary told him that there was a potential client out front wanting to speak with him, I could not help but notice how unhappy this young attorney was that there was a client that wanted to speak to him. I was so confused.  At first, he told the secretary to take a message! When the secretary told him, that she thought he had a really good case, the attorney slowly stood up, complained all the way to the client. I observed the interaction between the client and the attorney. The attorney was uninterested and quickly dismissed the gentleman.

As a legal consultant, there to revamp the law firm with the goal to increase clientele, I couldn’t help but mention what I had witnessed to the owner. My intention was not to get the young attorney in trouble. My intention was to get to the bottom of why this attorney felt so indifferent when it came to a potential walk in. This situation was addressed and the gentleman became a client of said law firm after many apologies from the owner himself. Later on the owner and I discussed why this happened, the owner, who was just as shocked as I was, told me that he assumed that his associate know how important potential clients are. A case a miscommunication? Maybe.

Unfortunately, not every situation has this kind of happy ending. Many times, the potential client will refuse to come back to a firm that gave him the impression that they could care less. Do you blame him? I don’t. First impressions are important.

It is of utmost importance that all of your staff know and understand the value of clients and especially potential clients. It should be reinforced constantly, so that even if this situation occurs, there will be another person to let you know what happened. To avoid a similar situation in the future, make sure to set up protocols for walk in clients. Having a set procedure will make it harder for anyone to stray from it. Loosing potential clients is something that needs to be taken seriously as I am sure you are aware.

Talk to your staff, make sure that even when you are not in the office that they act and behave in a way that represents your law firm in the best possible light. A potential client that may not have had a case is not a waste of time, instead that very client might be bringing in your next ten clients, assuming his experience with you and your law firm was a pleasant one.

A Paperless Office

Categories: Law Firm Organization - Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

 By Sibila D. Hujic

I know. I know – what you’re thinking. You saw the title, shook your head or maybe cringed a little. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. As much as I understand the hesitation to move to a paperless office system, I also know that attorneys are all looking for ways to improve their practices, are big on efficiency and systems. In light of that, I am very excited to share with you the idea of “going paperless”, which believe it or not has been around for quite some time now.

How many hours would you guess you and your staff spend on locating files and documents throughout the year? I know it doesn’t seem like a lot but it is. All time adds up, as an attorneys and as a law firm, time is the most valuable thing and every minute counts. The paperless system will save you countless amount of hours!

Not all attorneys are built the same, some will choose to keep more paper, others will choose to keep less, either way moving toward the paperless office means no more inefficient use of time! I encourage my clients to work toward an office that is 80% paperless. While you will be scanning everything that comes in the door, there is still paper that can not be thrown away. So I encourage you to just keep an open mind as you read on.

Lately, I have been asked one particular questions many times. It’s always some variation of, “What happens if I start this change then decide it’s not for me?” This is a fair question, that even I had before taking on my first client. In my experience, almost all attorneys are happy once they have embraced a life of less paper and more organization. My solution for the skeptics is to test the idea by first converting closed files into digital files. This will allow you to get to know the paperless system. Organizing, searching and locating documents will become so easy, soon you will be wondering why you didn’t make the switch sooner.

When an old client calls looking for old documents, a paralegal will have had to locate the file, pull the document (assuming it was found), take it apart, scan, copy, then mail. Now take a moment and imagine how differently that situation would be if all you needed was at your fingertips and you could simply pull documents and email it to the client within minutes. No searching. No heavy lifting. No scanning and mailing. Simple. Easy. Time efficient.

There are many advantages of having a paperless system. My favorite one is disaster recovery. I recently worked with an attorney who lost all of his open and closed files during hurricane Sandy. They were completely flooded and could not be saved. He never thought that could happen. What now? If his files were mostly paperless and remotely stored he would be fine and able to access his files from anywhere and at anytime. Now, as he is trying to rebuild, everything is being stored digitally and no matter what the future hold his files will be backed up, saved, and protected.

The increase in organization and efficiency will surprise you because everything will be in one place. Even mail, how many times have you had to copy and scan a piece of mail and distribute it among staff? By scanning all incoming mail and distributing it by e-mail you will be able to process and eliminate the clutter.

Take the leap, I promise you won’t be disappointed. You can always start slow. Check out our Paperless Law Firm Page, we can make your transition to a world with less paper smooth and painless.

Satisfaction Surveys

Categories: Law Firm Management, Law Firm Organization - Tags: , , , , ,

By Sibila D. Hujic

Did you know that obtaining a new client costs four to five times more than keeping an existing client? Keeping existing clients happy should be at the top of every firms’ priority list. As we all know, word of mouth is the most powerful advertising tool. I have noticed that most of the attorneys I worked with seemed to believe that if the legal work is phenomenal, then the client is happy and satisfied. Unfortunately, in today’s competitive market, that assumption cannot be made without the risk of losing clients.

To add to this equation, most clients that are dissatisfied, rarely complain. There is such a saturation of great attorneys out there that are waiting for your clients with open arms. Most people, myself included, would just go and speak to another attorney instead of getting upset and making a scene. The worst part is that most of the reasons that clients leave and do not refer cases in, can be completely avoided.

What are some of the reasons clients leave? The one that I hear constantly is poor, or no communication with the client. Then we have neglected legal work, fee disputes, conflicts of interest, incompetence, miscommunication, impatience, bad manners, unresponsiveness, etc.

A client may not remember a thousand things that your office has done right, but they will most certainly make a mental note of a forgotten phone call or a rude receptionist. It is the responsibility of the law firm to check in with their clients periodically and make sure that they are satisfied and if they are not, take the appropriate steps to resolve the clients issues.

I propose a great solution, conducting satisfaction surveys! I will admit that most of my clients weren’t thrilled with this plan. I understand. Who likes criticism? Bottom line is this, no amount of discomfort or criticism is worth losing a client, as well as potential future referrals. Naturally, most clients will feel much more comfortable giving feedback to someone other than your firm. Often, the best thing to do is to let a third-party company handle this for you.

Satisfaction Surveys have been extremely beneficial to my clients. Even though you might not agree with all the feedback, you will definitely have the opportunity to face problems head on, while there is still room to repair damage. Your clients can, and will provide you with feedback that will be constructive and will help you improve your services. This is an added benefit in keeping your staff on their best behavior.

Not enough can be said regarding how beneficial Satisfaction Surveys really are. I will leave you with this. If your client is happy, the survey can be used on your website to attract more clients and reinforce that your client picked the right firm. Negative feedback can be addressed. Problems can be resolved. A dissatisfied client can be turned into a satisfied one.  A law firm that is consistently working toward improving their services and their client relationships is definitely a firm that I would value and stick with indefinitely.

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