Unbalanced Scales – Weighing Marketing Options for Your Law Firm

The past few years have not been kind to any business, and law firms have, by and large, been no exception to the rule. People still need attorneys even in a down economy, but the fact of the matter is that they are less willing to spend money on attorneys fees when they have less money to begin with. None of this should come as any surprise, but it is surprising how often law firms and attorneys are at a loss when it comes to ways to find new clients. Unfortunately, this is a class that never gets taught in law school.

If you own or operate a law firm and haven’t had as much new business as you would like, then I want to introduce you to the concept of search engine optimization (commonly known as ‘SEO’). SEO is not the only way to market a legal practice, and although it’s one of the best ways, there are certainly situations where other forms of marketing may work better. Here’s why more law firms should pay attention to search engine optimization:

  1. Inbound Marketing: In the marketing industry, there is a common distinction between inbound and outbound marketing. In general, outbound marketing is an effort by the company in question to reach out to a potential client and initiate a client-relationship (think, for example, of calling a contact who you know might need your legal services). On the other hand, inbound marketing is marketing that aims to make a company visible to any potential clients who are actively looking for services or products offered by that company. The distinction is not always clear-cut, but it’s important for a law firm. In general, attorneys think about going out and networking (which is always an excellent idea), but the results are limited. Search Engine Optimization allows you to reach more potential clients more quickly.
  2. Efficiency: Let’s be frank – your law firm is your business, and you want to control costs like any other business. Advertising – even in print, but especially on TV – gets very expensive very fast. Advertising online is a good and attractive option, but I would argue that the money is better spent on a long-term SEO solution for your law firm. The rankings and traffic that result from good SEO can last for a very long time and can continue to benefit your law firm down the road.
  3. Competition: In today’s market, it’s getting harder and harder to differentiate your legal services from those provided by the attorney or lawyer down the street. Consequently, it’s prudent to take a different approach to marketing than the guy or gal down the street. There are law firms that already engage in SEO, but there are not as many as there could or should be, and you can take advantage of that fact.

Practicing law is not an easy profession, and the demands of the job have only increased over the past few decades. However, finding clients doesn’t need to be the most difficult part of your legal practice. As I mentioned above, search engine optimization is by no means the only way to get your law firm in front of more potential clients. It’s a method that we have helped many firms use to find many new clients on a ongoing basis.

If you want to get started, it probably makes sense to seek the help of a professional, although many SEO tactics can be tackled yourself if you have the time. In any event, I urge you to get started today, even if it’s with a different type of marketing. Your legal practice and career will greatly benefit down the road.

Law Firm Collections – The 10 Biggest Mistakes In Managing Their Accounts Receivable

The demands of an ever-growing legal profession require law firms to have forward-thinking management strategies to address clients’ needs. Although lawyers’ main priority is – and must be – to deliver quality service, law firms must also build their organizations to support their clients’ evolving demands, by taking steps such as opening international offices, embracing new technologies, and developing new areas of practice.

As a result of this growth, law firms will face high overhead and growing compensation demands from their professionals. Meanwhile, firms will be squeezed from the other side by clients who have high expectations yet, at the same time, scrutinize their bills.

During the course of a year, many firms find it difficult to judge how well their collection efforts are faring and how this could impact their financial pictures. Lawyers have been conditioned to take a relaxed attitude in their collection efforts, largely due to a mindset among attorneys that grants clients the benefit of the doubt and a view among clients that making payments is not a priority. Attorneys also fail to realize that clients will take advantage of their professional relationship. Thus begins a vicious cycle. Lawyers are not vigilant in getting their clients to pay and the clients, as a result, are not quick to pay. The lawyers, then, are reluctant to press their clients. And so on.

The business of buying legal services does not lend itself to such strict purchase and payment rules.

It often involves complicated transactions, equally complex business relationships, and disputed resolutions that require many hours of work at high billing rates, resulting in high bills to clients. Stopping work because a client does not pay is sometimes not an option because of ethical obligations.

The reality is that problems with collections within the legal profession are not a financial management

issue. It’s all about effective practice management, which requires attorneys and law firms to manage

their accounts receivable proactively. However good the firm’s financial staff may be, attorneys are ultimately responsible for the success – or failure – of collection efforts because they who steer the relationships with clients.

When it comes to receivables, law firms fall victim to 10 common mistakes:

1. Attorneys believe that aging receivables are not an indicator that collection problems exist. Actually, if bills have not been paid within 90 days, you have received the first sign that you may have a collection problem – and, if it is not resolved quickly, they could age further and be virtually uncollectible. Only 50 percent of receivables over 120 days will be collected, and the likelihood drops precipitously after that.

Clients reason that if the firm has waited several months to try to collect unpaid bills, they can wait to pay those bills. They assume, and with good reason, that they are in better position to negotiate discounts. The longer a law firm waits to collect unpaid bills, savvy clients realize, the more likely the bills will end up being discounted or written off altogether.

2. Law firms fear they will damage client relationships by asking clients to pay their bills. The fact is that law firms lose clients by doing poor work or by failing to deliver client service, not by asking clients to pay their bills. Efforts to manage receivables will not hurt the relationship, as long as it is done professionally. Actually, most clients are perfectly willing to pay their bills, although many are dealing with cash flow problems. Also, clients fall victim to “sticker shock,” which happens when a client expects to receive a bill of a certain size and gets a rude awakening when larger invoices arrive.

3. Lawyers avoid addressing problems by depending on the mail to communicate with delinquent clients.

Postal mail is slower and far less effective than using the telephone to address delinquency issues. A conversation allows you to have a dialogue about the bill. Besides, letters and reminder statements are easily misplaced and avoided. If the client continues to receive reminder statements after 60 days and still does not pay, chances are there is an issue preventing payment. Even a brief, non-confrontational telephone conversation should communicate to the client the urgency of your need for payment and allow you to learn quickly if there are any problems or concerns – and what it will take to get the bill paid.

4. Firms believe that accounting and collection software will cure all that ails them. Software can be an excellent tool to manage receivables, but it is only as good as the people using it. Many law

firms have developed policies and procedures to better manage their accounts receivable, but many have not properly utilized their software to help implement new systems. It takes time and specialization to fully grasp how the software can help a firm’s collection efforts. Law firm staffs are often responsible for many day-to-day tasks that leave them little time to explore and make maximum use of the functions that software offers.

5. Firms embrace alternative payment arrangements too quickly. Complex transactions may not lend themselves to a regular payment schedule, and they may cause confusion as to appropriate payment if the deal does not come to fruition. Furthermore, risky deals sometimes fail, leaving a trail of unpaid receivables.

6. Lawyers fail to recognize the point at which they should stop doing work rather than continuing to

amass unpaid bills. Sometimes lawyers become so wrapped up in their work that they do not pay

sufficient attention to bills that are not getting paid. By the time they realize clients are not paying, they have put in plenty of additional time. Someone – and perhaps the attorney is not the right person – should be monitoring payment so work does not far out-pace payment.

7. Accounts receivable management reports are not providing the right information to measure progress. Accounting departments are churning out a lot of reports concerning receivables. But are these reports answering the key questions that will allow the firm to maximize its collections? Why is the client delinquent? Is delinquency habitual for this client? What can the firm do to facilitate payment, both in the short and long terms?

8. Law firms are not analyzing the right reports to manage accounts receivable. Most firms still use

generic financial reports that have too much extraneous information to target problem offenders. Instead, firms need to generate more useful information. For instance, firms need to know if an account is being actively pursued and what the payment status is. They need to know who is pursuing the collection efforts (the attorney or the collection staff) and whether they are getting results. They need to categorize their accounts in order to know the reasons clients are not paying, such as cash flow problems, disputed fees and

services, or third-party responsibility. They need to know where the problem accounts are in order to determine a plan of action to get the bills paid.

9. Law firms are not spending enough time focusing on older, aging receivables. As a result of the growing legal profession, most firms continue to bring in new business while maintaining strong realization and focusing on more current accounts receivable. Firm management may be so busy building the firm for the future that it is ignoring the reality that a lot of receivables are slipping through their hands. They do not fully realize that increasing collections with payments from aging receivables is a fast and effective way to put more money into the partners’ pockets.

10. Law firms are not making collection staff or departments accountable for producing results. Many law firms fail to evaluate their staffs’ performances in collecting aging receivables. The collection staff is, therefore, left with little guidance as to what its collection responsibilities should be – and this does not necessarily include addressing and pursuing older, more difficult accounts. Collection staffs often end up being responsible only for monitoring payment of ongoing clients, sending reminder statements, or providing accounts receivable reports to attorneys. Although these duties are important, they do not address the more fundamental issues concerning collecting for complicated transactions and for client relationships that require more individual attention.

Take the time to honestly evaluate your receivables collection and management efforts. By understanding – and overcoming – some basic mistakes, lawyers can become far more effective in managing their receivables.

Is a Lawyer a Debt Collector, and Should You Sue the Lawyer If You Can When Sued For Debt?

As many people know, original creditors are treated differently than debt collectors. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) applies, by and large, just to debt collectors and gives original creditors a relatively free ride. So where do lawyers fit in? And should you sue them if you can?

Lawyers Can Be Debt Collectors

Lawyers are not protected under the FDCPA. They can be, and as a practical matter the one suing you probably is, a debt collector. However, if the lawyer is representing an original creditor and acting in its name, he will be treated as an original creditor. If you are being sued by a debt collector, chances are good that the lawyer is also a debt collector, you can pretty much count on it. He can be sued for things he does wrong.

Before you go suing the lawyer, though, there are two things you should know: one has to do with your legal rights, and the other is more of a practical consideration.

Respondeat Superior

There is a concept in the law that makes people responsible for the things people who are acting as their agents do. This is known as “respondeat superior.” With a few exceptions, an employer is liable for the actions of an employee. That means a client is responsible for the actions of his or her lawyer. In general, this means that a debt collector is responsible for anything that its attorney does. Or to put it differently, you don’t need to sue the lawyer to attack the debt collector.

Should you do it anyway, though?

Tactical Considerations

Whether or not it makes sense to sue the lawyer is not an easy decision. I know you take the lawsuit personally-it represents a large threat to your personal and financial well-being. Naturally you want to strike back, personally, at the human person you see on the other side. The question is, though, is this the decision most likely to give you the most benefit? Is it most likely to cause them to drop the case and leave you alone?

I don’t know. Most of the time, the lawyers suing you regard your case from a purely business perspective attempting to maximize their profit and minimize the cost of suing you. And much of my approach to debt litigation has been to suggest that people exploit this business perspective by making your case unprofitable. That is relatively easy to do, although of course this isn’t always enough. If you sue the lawyer, you change her motivation. Then, instead of it being a merely business decision, you increase the personal stakes for the lawyer. It makes things unpleasant for the lawyer, no doubt, but it also motivates them to work much harder in many cases. You have multiplied your enemies.

A Final Legal Consideration

If you are suing the lawyer, your claim is not exactly a “counterclaim.” Instead, what you would probably do is counterclaim under the FDCPA against the debt collector and bring a third-party suit (within the same lawsuit) against the lawyer. The pleading is just called a third-party suit and names the lawyer as third-party defendant and states your claim in the same way the counterclaim did. Then the lawyer has to be served a summons. None of this is specially difficult, but it is time-consuming. Given the questionable benefit of suing the lawyer, I rarely thought it was worth spending the extra time. You’ll have to decide what makes sense to do in your case.

Tips to Find a Good Bankruptcy Lawyer Who Will Provide the Necessary Legal Services

Bankruptcy is quite a serious matter and there is nothing worse for an individual or a corporation than having to file for bankruptcy. It can affect many people and ruin their careers and lives and render them completely helpless. The very word bankruptcy means a legal state of being unable to repay debts that one owes to the creditors. It is also sometimes referred to as insolvency. It can happen to both individual and organizations. Creditors will normally file a bankruptcy petition in an endeavor to recover a part of the money payable to them by the company or organization when bankruptcy happens to an organization. When it happens to an individual then they get buried in so much debt that they find it impossible to recover from it, and have no other option but to file for bankruptcy.

Therefore, whether it happens to an individual or an organization, it is absolutely necessary to seek the services of a bankruptcy lawyer who is well acquainted with bankruptcy law and will be able to shield you against the petition filed by the creditors. The bankruptcy lawyers are quite expensive and they will only render their services once you convince them that it is possible for you to bear their fees, and pay them on time. But since they are expensive and since your entire financial future depends on their expertise you should be careful as to whom you hire and follow some guidelines while looking for a good bankruptcy lawyer.

  1. The first step in hiring a bankruptcy lawyer is to look for an experienced lawyer who has the necessary expertise to handle any kind of bankruptcy. Remember that your future is in the hands of this individual who will represent you in the court of law. It is their knowledge and expertise which will determine how your case unfolds in the court and what is your chance of winning the case.
  2. It will be prudent to do some background research before you hire an expensive bankruptcy lawyer. Ask your colleagues, friends, neighbors, or any of your acquaintances who have gone through the same ordeal or knows someone who have required the services of a bankruptcy lawyer. Internet search can also throw back results about the lawyers in your location and their specialties. Yellow pages can also be a good source from where you can get hold of a lawyer. Any bankruptcy lawyer that is working in your area should be listed there and hence as per your requirements you can get the contact details of such a lawyer. Just look into the bankruptcy section and you will immediately give a list of all bankruptcy lawyers in your area.
  3. Once you have listed the lawyers in your area, it is time for some background checks on the list and then pick one from the list. Through the internet, it is easy to get information on the lawyers and their case histories, their success rate, and client feedbacks. You can also ask for a review on the lawyer you are interested in, by calling up the court and asking them for a review. You will also be able to check which bankruptcy lawyer has the majority number of winning cases. Also important is to find out which bankruptcy lawyer has the maximum experience of working in your area and the local court, because that will mean that the particular lawyer will have good rapport with the court officials. Hiring lawyer who has a winning streak but belongs to another state is a bad idea, because laws change from one state to another and a lawyer who is working in another state may not be successful in your state, as he won’t have enough information to fight your case.
  4. A consultation session is a must once you have shortlisted two or three lawyers. You can always cal up and request them to meet you for a consultation session. These sessions are usually free of the lawyers’ billing time. If a lawyer demands money for this session, it will be best to avoid that lawyer. This session will be the deal maker, and will certainly help you make that final decision regarding which lawyer is best suited to fight your case.

The current world is dominated by credit card users, and people fall into debts because it is difficult to keep a check on the spending for most people who enjoy the good life. But the result can be huge debts which have led to the increase in bankruptcy petitions which in turn has resulted in an increase in demand for bankruptcy lawyers. The above tips can be used as a guideline for finding the right lawyer as there are risks for a lay person without any knowledge of legal matters to bump into a money grabbing legal monster who is only interested in making a few extra bucks while offering poor legal services in return.