Five Tips to Increase Efficiency Every Day
Have you ever said to yourself, “I love helping my clients improve their lives, I love being my own boss … but keeping track of the business details is a royal pain.”
If you’re a solo attorney or in a small practice with minimal support staff, you can probably relate to these thoughts. You love lawyering, but the rest … not so much. We’re talking about tracking time, billing clients, paying vendors and on and on. Not only are these tasks not your idea of fun, they eat into time that you could be billing clients for.
So here are five tips that can help.
1. Friday Afternoon Brain Dump
Weekends are a great time notto think about work. But work can still intrude if nagging little details are on your mind. That’s where the Friday Afternoon Brain Dump comes in. Step 1: On Friday afternoon, write down everything you can think of that is pending. This should be easy, because a lot of this is fresh in your mind from dealing with it all week. Step 2: Forget about it and start your weekend! When Monday rolls around, you can refer to your notes and hit the ground running.
2. Tee It Up for Monday
I know I just said that weekends are a great time notto think about work. But you might want to spend a little time on Sunday getting ready for Monday. It can be as simple as gathering a pile of things you need so you can grab it on your way out the door on Monday or writing down a list of people and phone numbers for some calls you need to make first thing.
3. Time Is Money
Time is money, especially for attorneys. By far the most important thing in the chain of “getting paid” is recording your time. At this point you probably think I’m going to tell you to find some legal billing software – end of story. Well, I amgoing to tell you to find some legal billing software, but first I want to talk about recording your time.
In 1976, Steve Miller sang, “Time keeps on slipping into the future,” and it really does. You need to keep track of it if you want to get paid for it. You’ll also need to organize it and add it up if you want to get paid, but if you’ve got nothing to organize and add up, that’s a problem.
When it comes to recording your time, use whatever method works best for you. Maybe you’re a pen and paper person. Maybe you talk into a recorder. Maybe you like to run a timer while you work. Just monitor that time any way you can. Everybody is different, but all attorneys who want to get paid need to track their time.
4. Legal Billing Software
Now let’s talk about legal billing software. All of the time you’ve logged needs to go into software that will organize it, run calculations on it and display it in useful ways such as bills and reports. Creating bills by hand or in Excel is just not the way to go.
Maybe you will enter your time directly into your billing software, but if you don’t, you should try to transfer it daily from wherever you initially captured it. Once your time is in the software, you can be reasonably sure you’re going to be paid for it, and not only that, you’ll be able to review the work you’ve done with a few clicks of a mouse. Simply put, it’s really powerful to have your time stored in software. It may be more efficient for you to perform the initial capture on paper, but from there you want to get it into software ASAP.
Once your time has been entered in the billing software of your choice, generating bills is a snap. Most programs will allow you to email the bills to your clients or print them out for regular mail. Additionally, the software will keep perfect track of payments received (more about that in the next tip) and exactly how much money you are owed.
There are a number of excellent legal billing software packages available. Cloud-based software has its advantages, but there are also some good choices that run directly on your computer. Probably the best way to start your search is to talk to your colleagues. Your bar association most likely has an online forum with a discussion of billing software.
Finally, most software packages offer a free, no-risk trial period and have technical support to answer your questions.
5. Show Me the Money
Once your bills have been sent out, it’s time for payments to come in. In addition to the traditional check, many legal billing software applications support payment by credit card. If the bill has been emailed to the client, a payment link will be included. The bill recipient clicks on that link, which takes the payer to a secure form to enter credit card information.
If you currently have billing software you are happy with, but it does not provide integrated credit card processing, there are stand-alone credit card processing companies that specialize in the legal market.
Yes, there are fees involved whenever you accept payment by credit card, but these days the public expectation is that everyone takes plastic.
Hopefully this article has provided you with some actionable ideas that will let you spend more time providing legal services to your clients and less fussing with administrative details. The most important thing you can do is to consistently track your time and enter it into the legal billing software of your choice. Your money is safe in the bank; your time is safe in the software.