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

Businessman putting money in a Santa hat

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

mobile friendly website
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.”

mobile-friendly

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

pay legal fees

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

Chromebook In The Law Firm – An Update [PODCAST]

LEGAL PRACTICE PROLots of people called me crazy when I announced that I was ditching my MacBook Pro and going all in on Chrome OS. That was about two months ago, and I wanted to share my thoughts about how things are going with the new system.

In this audio segment I discuss Chrome OS, speed and reliability, connecting with my office, using BestCase, and saving a ton of money.

If you’re looking at a new computer and worried about spending thousands of dollars on a Windows or Mac machine, this could be the solution you’ve been waiting for.

Some useful links for you to consider:

Avvo Advisor – Are You Worth $156 An Hour?

Avvo Advisor

Bankruptcy lawyers, take note – Avvo, the company so many of you love to hate, is now looking to bring you paying clients.

In an expansion of their offerings, last week the Martindale-Hubbell Killer unveiled Avvo Advisor, a new service that allows consumers to connect with a lawyer for as little as $39 for a 15-minute phone session to discuss their problems.

Though I have yet to actually participate in the program (I’ve signed up for the waiting list – so can you by clicking here) I can say that I’m pretty excited to dig in and give you a full hands-on review.

Consumer with legal questions can go online to Avvo or use the free iOS app. After entering a zip code, selecting the type of legal problem and entering a credit card for billing, the service sends out a text message to all attorneys in the consumer’s location and practice area. First one to accept the session gets 15 minutes to initiate the call.

When the call is finished, the full fee is deposited into the lawyer’s account (that’s right, there’s no fee splitting to worry about).

This is a great idea for a few reasons. First, it’s another potential means of attracting clients to your office. With bankruptcy filings low, that’s a plus for many lawyers.

Second, consider the fact that most bankruptcy lawyers don’t charge for an initial consultation. If Avvo Advisor gains traction, you’re potentially seeing revenue where there was previously none – at the consultation phase. All that uncompensated time is gone, replaced by paid consultations with no credit card processing fees.

Of course, if you charge more than $156 an hour for your consultations then Avvo Advisor may not be your best option.

For consumers, this is just another way to get answers to questions. Avvo has been hosting an active Q & A section of their site for quite some time as a way for consumers to get more information about their particular problem. The answers can be a bit spotty (for example, there’s a lawyer who answers student loan questions and gets it wrong EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.) , and the lawyers who answer aren’t always licensed in the same jurisdiction as the consumer. For $39, that same consumer can get an answer from a lawyer who is, at the very least, licensed to practice law in that state.

What does Avvo get out of it? More users to the app, more visitors to the website, more opportunities to get lawyers to try their paid advertising service, and more revenue. Avvo takes one more step towards being seen as THE authority for consumers looking for legal help, all the while culling what is likely a massive amount of user data.

I’m going on record as betting that Avvo eventually moves into self-help legal forms a la LegalZoom. It’s a natural next step towards winning the war of consumer-facing legal services.

Say what you will about the wisdom of getting a full consultation for $39 in just 15 minutes (sounds like a GEICO ad), but the rise of self-help legal document sites and unbundled legal services means that more consumers than ever are looking for more help at a lower cost. Legal advice is swiftly becoming a commodity in many fields, and it’s up to the savvy attorney to get on the train to risk getting left behind.