January 24, 2017 Practice Points

8 Tips to Start Your Firm’s New Year Off Right

By Elizabeth M. Miller

Make a fresh start year with a financial plan (and budget), focused staff, organized files, and a decluttered computer. Here's how:

1. Set goals for your staff. This is one way to get your staff motivated for the year. If there is a monthly billable quota or other metric used to measure productivity and efficiency, make sure they know what it is. Involve the staff in goal setting. It will help motivate them if they are part of the solution.

2. Review expenses and engage in cost cutting of unnecessary expenses. Consider office processes and see what needs to be changed to be more efficient. Review the life cycle of a file. Streamline projects and consider instituting legal project management. Make sure tasks are being done by the most competent but least expensive staff member. Lawyers should not be e-filing or doing other non-billable clerical tasks.

3. Review your fee schedule. If you are going to raise your rates, the best time of the year to do that is now. Especially corporate clients have an expectation of increases at the beginning of a year. Just be sure to stay competitive within the immediate legal community. Don't raise your rates and price yourself out of the market.

4. Do performance evaluations and compensation reviews. It is best to do all performance evaluations and compensation reviews (raises) raises once a year at the same time. Staff knows what to expect and you can plan for it in your budget. With new employees you should always do a 90 day probationary review. After that once a year should be sufficient as long as you address problems as they occur throughout the year.

5. Be sure you have a budget and a good handle on your operating expenses. Shooting from the hip when it comes to finances, or waiting until a crisis, such as a new printer or computer, usually means you run out and buy something no matter what the cost. Be budget conscious and know what your firm's needs are.

6. Prepare for tax time.

7. Organize your files. If you do not have one, institute a retention/destruction policy.

8. Schedule everything for the year now. Calendar all meetings that are coming up that you know of now. If you meet with the staff on the 3rd Thursday of every month, or the 1st Tuesday of the month, schedule it out for the year now. That way no conflict arises (unless it's a trial, etc.). When meetings like this are skipped because no one calendared it, it doesn't happen. These meetings are important to the firm.

Elizabeth Miller is an independent/contract law firm administrator helping attorneys manage the "business" of practicing law in Tampa, Florida.


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