Summer is quickly coming to an end. While it is still hot in many places, the return after Labor Day for all intents and purposes signals the end of the summer - and summer vacations.
Hopefully your firm has made good use of the “summer downtime” that exists when court dockets slow down, Judges, court personnel and the rest of the profession takes time off.
So, now it’s time to get back to work. There are many important things that you can do to get your law firm ready to gear up for the fasting approaching 4th quarter of the year and end the year in the black:
1. Check your dockets and trial calendars. Hopefully you’ve spent time and extra available help such as summer interns doing some of the heavy lifting over the summer months. Make sure trial prep is on the front burner; potential witness and exhibit lists prepared including how or where to serve your witnesses. Subpoenas for trial obviously can’t be served months in advance but you can be prepared with all the information at hand so it is not a last minute fire drill.
2. In keeping with #1, make sure that all court hearings, depositions and trials are covered. Know what attorney is assigned to what case and who will be attending proceedings in your cases. This gives the attorney a broad spectrum view of what the rest of their year will look like and they can plan their time accordingly.
3. This is a good time to look at your staffing needs. If staff took time off over the summer and you didn’t feel the pinch of the work falling behind, it may be time to take a look at your caseload and determine if you are over-staffed. Up-sizing, down-sizing or even right-sizing may be on the agenda for the coming year.
4. Look at the first three quarters of the year billings and productivity of timekeepers. Determine whether any timekeepers have performed below the expected billable hours or generation of revenues. Now is a good time to review the billables with timekeepers and see what needs to be done to get everyone to meet the firm’s goals for the year.
5. If your firm does a formal Christmas party at a restaurant or some other venue, now is the time to start checking around and booking a location if you have something specific in mind. Believe it or not but some venues are booked by mid-October and the venue that is your first choice may not be available if you wait too long.
6. Take a look at your billing and collection efforts. If you have clients with large balances, step up your collection efforts to bring in the lion’s share of those collectibles before the end of the year. If you have clients whose cases have been concluded and they owe you a balance, consider offering a 10 or 20% discount to the client to get paid and get those receivables off your books. The time value of money decreases the longer the debt remains outstanding, so your firm is not going to benefit from waiting. If you turn the matter over to a collection agency or even a lawyer it will cost 30 - 40% (or more) of the collectible revenue plus costs. Offering a client a discount before it gets to that point might get you more of the money faster. No one wants to reduce their fees, however, given the time value of money it is often sound business advice to just cut your losses and get those revenues collected before year end.
Planning ahead, time management and organization are helpful tools in making your firm efficient, productive, and successful year round. Always keep an eye on what is in front of your firm in terms of commitments and plan accordingly. Every aspect of managing the business of practicing law® contributes to your bottom line!