Law practice management is glossed over in law school. So, when it comes to starting your own practice, it can be hard to know what to do. Of course, there are lawyers who have a knack for business and manage to hit the ground running. They have a great practice management plan in place and they work hard to keep their law office running. And sometimes, things happen. Lawyers are only human. They get overwhelmed. They get intimidated. Their practice management plan falls by the side.
If your practice management plan has fallen to the backburner, there are some things you can do to get it back on track.
Address Any Intimidation You Feel
If feelings of intimidation caused your practice management to become lax, you must address it head-on. This means:
- Determine exactly what is making you feel intimidated.
- Decide whether the core issue is something only you can take care of or if it is something you can delegate.
- Ask yourself if this is something with an actual deadline or if it is just something that you want to do.
- If there’s no deadline, decide if you should take it off your to-do list or delegate it.
- Re-write and re-prioritize your to-do list. Remove anything that really isn’t necessary that’s causing you to feel this way.
- Give yourself adequate time to handle intimidating tasks that are necessary.
- Do not procrastinate. Work on those tasks a little every day.
- Make time for exercise and down time. This can help you re-focus and de-stress.
Reassess Your Practice Management Plan
As your law office grows and changes, your practice management plan may need to change, too. Don’t try to fit the proverbial square peg into a round hole. Reassess your plan and decide what’s working and what isn’t working. If you have support staff, get their input. What’s working well for them? Is there a way that they believe could make your practice more efficient for everyone?
Where Do Practice Management Plans Most Often Fail?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and you just don’t know where to start, look at the following areas of practice management:
Billing. How often do you log your billable time and expenses? Do you try to just remember everything and hope you have time later in the month? Are your bills going out at the same time each month? Are clients complaining that their invoices cost more than they expected? Those questions are all important and can indicate a problem in your practice management plan. For billing, make sure that you’re:
- Make time every day to write down or record your time and expenses immediately in your billing software.
- You won’t necessarily remember the exact amount of time you spent on any given matter if you don’t write it down immediately. An accurate bill helps you get paid what you’re worth.
- You and clients both need bills that go out at the same time every month. This helps you by keeping money flowing into your practice. It helps clients because they know when to expect an invoice (and an update) related to their matter.
- Sending out invoices at the same time each month can also answer questions clients may have about their bill. You’ll also know whether the client has used most (or all) of their retainer. This gives you the opportunity to reach out and ask the client how they would like you to proceed.
Client Communication. Are clients getting angry because their voice mails, messages, and emails aren’t being returned? Are they upset because they never know when they might hear from you? Client communication is extremely important and should be addressed in your practice management plan. You should:
- Create a policy that determines approximately how long clients may wait for you to return their message or email. The best practice is by the end of the business day or within 24 business hours. If you legitimately don’t have time for a long response, call them back or reply to their email letting them know you received their message and you’re looking into the matter. Even a small response can go a long way with clients.
- If you’re going to be out of the office for court, vacation, or even CLE, change your voicemail and set up your out of office message. Inform the clients when you’ll be out of the office, how long you expect to be gone, when you will respond to their message, and how they can contact someone in your office for an emergency. Make sure that you respond to clients when you said that you would.
Deadlines. As a lawyer, you cannot miss deadlines. You must create a system that works for you…and you must use the system. If you’re missing deadlines, consider:
- Set-up an electronic ticklers that give you advance notice to do what you need to do.
- Use a paper tickler file, but remember to keep it updated and check it every single day. Unlike an electronic tickler, a paper tickler won’t send you a reminder.
- Create a master calendar. This can be an electronic calendar or a paper calendar. An electronic calendar can be synched to your computer and your phone. You can also give others permission to handle your calendar to help you stay on top of deadlines. Make sure that you also track your CLEs!
Why Is Practice Management So Important?
Practice management is important for lawyers because it can help protect you against ethical complaints. When the right systems are implemented as part of your practice management plan, you minimize your risk and continue to protect your practice!