Why Falling Bankruptcy Filings Are Bad For Tomorrow’s Debtors

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Bob Lawless of Credit Slips is predicting that bankruptcy filings, which fell by 11% in 2014, will once again fall in 2015. Using statistical models based on prior years, Lawless says, “My prediction for 2015 bankruptcies is somewhere around 800,000, which would be another decline of 12%.”

Lawless is usually in the right ballpark when it comes to forecasting bankruptcy filings (he correctly pegged the 2014 numbers), so I’m inclined to believe his forecast for 2015. And that scares me, not only for the profession but also for the consumers who need our help.

This past year saw a number of my colleagues leave the field. Some went into other areas of law, and others decided that this was a good time to retire from the practice entirely. If this trend continues, there will be few seasoned bankruptcy attorneys available to help people who do need our help.

Demand will rise eventually, as it always does. Our consumer-driven economy dictates that people will get into financial difficulties and need the relief that bankruptcy offers. When they do, who will they turn to?

New lawyers will take the place of those who have left the field, but without a significant number of experienced attorneys in a position to mentor them, there are sure to be lapses in knowledge and information.

Without a ready supply of experienced bankruptcy lawyers, consumers will have no choice but to hire newer attorneys. That’s not a bad thing (we were all new lawyers at one time) but if those attorneys don’t have the benefit of local mentors there’s sure to be a lower standard of client care.

Bankruptcy bar associations such as NACBA and training programs by experienced lawyers such as Cathy Moran serve to mitigate the problem, but nothing compares to an experienced local bar when it comes to getting help with questions of procedure as they relate to your particular judges.

For that reason, I hope more of my colleagues choose to use other fields of law to supplement their practices rather than abandon bankruptcy altogether. Your future clients need you.

5 SEO Tips For When Google Takes A Break

Legal Marketing PodcastThe Google updates were coming fast and furious in the early part of December, only to grow quiet at the end of the month. How can you take advantage of Google’s time away from the switch and gain an advantage in the search rankings?

Read the article from Search Engine Roundtable that talks about Google’s end-of-year silence.

Use The Slow Holiday Season To Boost Your Practice In The New Year

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From Thanksgiving to the end of December, nobody wants to think about bankruptcy.

It isn’t until everyone makes their New Years Resolutions that they start thinking about getting out of debt. And even then, action doesn’t come until the first wave of credit card bills shows up in the mail.

As a bankruptcy lawyer, you’ve got a few choices. You could hone your solitaire game, clean the office, or take some steps designed to help your bankruptcy practice hit the ground running once the new clients start calling in January.

Here are some of the things I do every year to help my bottom line once the ball drops in Times Square.

Hone Office Forms

This is a quickie that won’t bring in new clients, but a tactic designed to make it easier for those who do call to get through the pipeline.

Go through your intake forms and ask yourself if there’s anything you can rewrite, delete or add to make it easier for clients to understand and complete the process. Smoothing the way makes it simpler for clients to get their cases filed, and that helps improve your cash flow.

Review Your Web Analytics

During the course of the year the visitors to your website have been telling you exactly what they want. Why not use that information to your benefit?

Your website analytics shows the search terms your visitors are using to get to you, the pages they visit, and the length of time they spend there. By looking at that information you can learn more about their problems, and which parts of your website need to be revised to maximize your usefulness.

Create A Content Calendar

We fall behind on our blogging duties when things are busy. Use the slow time to outline the topics for your January (and, if possible, February) blog posts so you can make it easier to get things published in a timely manner.

Set Up Your Google AdWords Campaign

We know that Google AdWords is one of the most powerful tool for getting potential clients to get in touch. But setting up a campaign can take awhile – formulating keywords, ad copy and targeting is something that can chew up the better part of a day.

If you wait until January to do it, you probably won’t have the time. Take some time while things are slow to set up the campaign, and choose a start date for after January 1, 2015.

Hit The (Accounting) Books

Most of us have no idea how much we spend on running our business. Now that you’ve got some time on your hands, spend some of it working through your year-to-date income and expenses. This will help you better understand where your money’s going, and how you may be able to cut costs in the new year.

Not only will your business be stronger, but your accountant will be happier when it comes time to collect your information for tax purposes.

Taking these simple steps when the slow holiday times roll around will help you get a jump start on the new year. Not only will you have more time to make more money, but you’ll also be more organized and effective once the holiday season is over.

Google Rolling Out Special Ranking For Mobile-Friendly Sites

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Ever search the web from your phone, only to click a link that forces you to pinch and zoom in order to read the content?

That’s what the online world considers a bad user experience. And with the prevalence of smartphones and tablets, it’s become incumbent on search engines to do something about it.

Google has stepped in, debuting new icons to allow searchers to figure out which sites are mobile-friendly. But more important is the fact that the search giant has stated that it is, “experimenting with using the mobile-friendly criteria as a ranking signal.”

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Suddenly, having a mobile-friendly website has gone from useful to imperative.

According to Google, a page is eligible for the “mobile-friendly” label if it:

  • Avoids software that is not common on mobile devices, like Flash
  • Uses text that is readable without zooming
  • Sizes content to the screen so users don’t have to scroll horizontally or zoom
  • Places links far enough apart so that the correct one can be easily tapped

Thankfully, Google has released a Mobile-Friendly Test to help you determine whether your site is eligible for the mobile-friendly label. If your site flunks the test, it’s time to give a call to your web developer and see what they can do to help you get over the mobile hurdle.

5 Easy Steps To Getting Bankruptcy Clients To Pay Their Legal Fees

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When you’re a bankruptcy lawyer, you get used to friends and relatives asking how you get paid.

Ha ha ha, I get it – people who are filing for bankruptcy don’t have a lot of money. If I were the sort of guy who threw a punch, this would be just the time I’d do just that.

Though I’m not the fighting kind, lots of my private consulting clients over the years have come to me in part because of this exact problem.

Getting bankruptcy clients to pay legal fees is like asking the Pillsbury dough boy to go on a gluten-free diet. It feels as if it just ain’t gonna happen.

With that challenge in mind, here are the exact steps I use to get my fees paid willingly and happily.

Be Clear About Fees

Lots of bankruptcy attorneys mumble their way through the discussion of fees, probably because they’re scared that their clients will run screaming from the room.

But it’s important to establish with your client the amount of money you’re going to get paid to do the work they need done, and to do so in precise terms.

If a client doesn’t think you’re worth it, getting them to sign a retainer agreement isn’t going to change that – they’ll still cut and run at the first opportunity.

Spell Out Deadlines

Most bankruptcy lawyers say, “pay me over time,” when it comes to legal fees. The client walks out knowing the case won’t be filed until a certain amount of money is paid, but that date is nebulous.

They make a plan to pay off the fee, but forget it in about 20 minutes when life creeps back in. Months later, the fee still isn’t paid and the case languishes on your desk.

People like to know when something is due because it creates certainty. They can put the date in their calendar, set an alarm, and arrange their day around a trip to the post office (or to your office).

Provide those deadlines and you stand a far better chance of getting paid.

Be Visible

Your clients forgets about you because life gets in the way. It’s not intentional, but bankruptcy becomes less pressing once your client is confronted with cooking meals, taking the kids to school, paying the rent, and figuring out how to afford an oil change before the car breaks down.

You need to do everything you can to remain in front of their thoughts so that they remember to do the things you need them to do (provide documents, pay fees, show up for meetings, make Plan payments). Some ideas are:

  • Call every two weeks to check in and see how things are going with (documents, fees, life)
  • Send a monthly statement of unpaid fees and outstanding documents
  • Email relevant articles or information

Have Consequences

People don’t pay their legal fees because there’s no reason for them to do so. If they don’t send you $100 this month, they’ll send it next month.

What are you going to do about it, anyway?

Turns out, there are a number of things you can do. Some of the consequences we have in our office for nonpayment are:

  • Late fees for each installment not received on time
  • Additional fees for failure to pay the balance in full, provide all documents and sign the Petition within a specified timeframe
  • Automatic file closure if the case isn’t filed with the court within a certain amount of time

By the way, we provide for payment of legal fees at our hourly rate in the event that the file is closed, and we keep contemporaneous time records to justify the charges. That said, if a client wants their money back I’m not one to decline – remember that the one sure way to get a client to file a disciplinary complaint is to refuse to refund money.

Be Firm

Deadlines and consequences mean nothing without enforcement.

Let your client know the first time a late fee is added to their balance, and you won’t have the worry about another one.

No, you can’t waive the fee if they beg and plead – if you do, that means you can do it again. And that negates the threat of enforcement.

Work Your System

You may need to fiddle with your system, much as I’ve done over the past decade since I first put it in place.

That’s OK, though; the benefits far outweigh the burdens.

Remember that the goal is to get clients what they want – a case filed in court, a discharge issued quickly, and a debt-free life. By following these steps you can make that happen.

Photo Credit: StockMonkeys.com