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April 28, 2020 Practice Points

Three Tips for Pandemic Productivity

Some tips to help your small firm stretch its budget over these months of uncertainty and hit the ground running when business gets back to normal.

By Kelsey Heino

We are monitoring the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation as it relates to law and litigation. Find more resources and articles on our COVID-19 portal. For the duration of the crisis, all coronavirus-related articles are outside the Section of Litigation paywall and available to all readers.

Law firms across the country are feeling the sting of the coronavirus pandemic. Litigation matters may be on hold due to court closures or client financial struggles, employees are working at home full-time, perhaps for the first time in the firm’s history, and maintaining communication with clients and employees seems more challenging than ever. Here are a few tips to make the most of this trying time and come out more productive on the other side.

  1. Bills, bills, bills. If your firm is experiencing a downturn in new client matters, proper billing procedures are more important than ever. Time entry is the bane of many a seasoned lawyer’s existence, and many have fallen into the habit of entering their time retroactively at the end of the week or month. Lawyers who reconstruct their time weekly tend to lose 25 to 30 percent of their time, and those who enter time on a monthly basis can lose as much as 55 to 70 percent. (See this article for more information on how to make the timekeeping honor roll.) Also be sure all attorneys and staff are familiar with any files which may have special billing requirements like unique deadlines or coding. It is critical that every increment is accounted for and that invoices can be processed without a lot of unnecessary back and forth.

    On the back end, if your firm is only sending “friendly reminders” to past-due clients, consider implementing a collection program akin to an employee progressive discipline policy. If the client is 30 days past due, they get the friendly reminder; 60-90 days is stepped up to a certified letter with a deadline for payment; 120 days may be a letter enclosing a drafted debt collection complaint. Of course, you’ll need to be sure this program is consistent with any payment obligations in your engagement agreement and any applicable debt collection statutes, but now’s a good time to look at your accounts receivable processes.
  2. Cut back on extras. If money is tight, the last thing you probably want to cut is employee benefits or salaries. So, as a first step, review your firm’s extra costs—how necessary is that premium legal research account? Perhaps you could get by with a legal research service with fewer bells and whistles like Casemaker or Fastcase. One or both of these services is usually offered as a state bar association membership benefit and provide free citation creation and alert tools.

    Have each of your attorneys take a hard look at their business development funds. Maybe this summer isn’t the time to pay for that expensive country club membership or a local networking group that won’t be able to hold its normal big get-togethers. If you have an arrangement with a grocery store for beverage delivery, consider cancelling or suspending while your office is running on skeleton staff. These overlooked expenses can add up quickly!
  3. Find billable alternatives. If you have staff or associates who are low on billable work, have them work on non-billable projects which will benefit the firm in the long run. This could be a marketing project that’s been on the back-burner for the last three months or a blog/webinar/presentation that’s due a few months from now. Think outside the box—is there a way to streamline a process or create a one-stop-shop for resources? If you’re always reinventing the wheel on contract provisions, have senior associates pull their top three contracts from the last year and a junior associate can compile all the alternative language for various clauses into a master document. Keeping employees on as close to a regular work schedule as possible is important so that, when more work does start coming in, your employees aren’t having to unlearn their bad time management habits created during the pandemic.

These tips can help your small firm stretch its budget over these next few months of uncertainty and allow you to hit the ground running when business gets back to normal. Of course, if you need more extensive assistance, don’t forget to look into the various funding alternatives available to small businesses—the SBA’s Coronavirus resource page is a great place to start. For other coronavirus-related tools, the ABA’s task force has compiled a resource page here.

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Kelsey Heino is an employment litigation attorney with the Omaha office of Woods Aitken, LLP.

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