How lawyers handle their billing has long been a topic of discussion in our field. Traditionally, it was a simple process. Record your time. Prepare invoices by listing all these billing entries multiplied by the lawyers’ hourly billing rates and adding expenses clients should pay. Send out the billing on the same day every month. Get paid. But it was often not simple and smooth – and it still isn’t today. Recording a lawyer’s time by the six-minute increments is not the way legal billing has always been done.

Most readers know of the challenges found between recording time and final billing. A new associate demonstrates their expertise by doing too much research and writing a lengthy, detailed memo, generating billing that needs to be written down. The partner did a lot of work on a project, but generated few billing records because things were so busy. One partner is out of state and failed to turn in a week’s worth of billing before leaving. And the pre-bills can get stuck in the review process because both emergencies and procrastination can happen. 

BILLING HAS NOT ALWAYS BEEN RATE TIMES THE HOURS

Read the rest of my October 2021 Law Practices Tips column in the Oklahoma Bar Journal.

Discussing technology competence among lawyers is always an interesting conversation. When we were discussing adopting the technology competence amendment to the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct, one lawyer indicated that he didn’t want to learn how to use Twitter and shouldn’t be forced to by a rule or comment. My unspoken reaction was “You don’t have to learn about Twitter, unless Twitter is involved in one of the matters you are handling and then you may be ethically required to learn about it.” (Which is why almost every family law practitioner now knows how to save Facebook and other social media posts to be used at trial.)

Of course there are some technology skills you are required to have to practice law today, such as making certain client confidences are not placed at risk by improper use of technology tools.

My contribution to the discussion this month is Technology Competence for Every Lawyer. It is not comprehensive, as that would take many more pages and would likely differ based on a lawyer’s type of practice. But I’d like to think it is a good starting place for “every lawyer” who might want to learn more about technology competence. According to Bob Ambrogi’s LawSites blog, 39 states have now adopted some version of the ethics rule requiring technology competence.

Some of the greatest decisions of your career may be ones that you don’t even remember. They involve clients who you decided not to represent that went on to make another lawyer’s life miserable for a while. Client selection is an important aspect of law firm management. For many lawyers, this involves a one-to-one consultation with prospective clients.

My column in the Oklahoma Bar Journal Client Selection: How to Red Flag High-Risk Clients (Including Relatives) covers some types of potential clients that most likely aren’t going to be great clients.

I also discuss the idea that lawyers shouldn’t represent their relatives. For some lawyers, that is “black letter law,” never to be done. Others think that approach is overly cautious. My personal opinion is you should never represent family members in contested family law matters. You don’t want to be one of the cast of characters in the recounting of “How I got ripped off in my divorce” that happens at family gatherings. On the other hand, if you know there’s a huge search and seizure issue with your nephew’s arrest and know exactly how to respond, are you really going to tell him and his family to find a lawyer on their own?

We recently did a Digital Edge podcast Overcoming Trust Account Management Challenges.

Our guest was Paul Garibian, a fintech expert, entrepreneur, and current CEO of Nota. Nota provides financial services to lawyers including trust accounts with no services charges. We discussed common mistakes lawyers make with their trust accounts, the serious consequences of mismanaging these accounts, and the best practices lawyers need to know. There is a transcript of the podcast also available at the link for those who would rather read than listen. The basics of proper trust account management are not that onerous (I know others may disagree) as long as you do record keeping timely. A small amount of time each week keeps a lawyer out of trust account trouble.

Both Julie Bays and I of the OBA Management Assistance Program are available to discuss trust account questions with Oklahoma Bar Association members.

Lawyers often deal with the challenges that occur when people die without making a last will and testament. One result is sometimes intestacy laws distribute property differently than the deceased might have wanted. Additional expenses and legal fees are almost always a result.

Similar challenges and expenses can occur when a lawyer dies or becomes disabled without leaving instructions as to how matters should be handled in their absence, whether permanent or temporary. The burden of deciding what to do then falls on the spouse or other heirs, even though sometimes local lawyers may pitch in to help. But even if another lawyer agrees to help wind up a practice, do your heirs understand the client files must be first reviewed as that lawyer may be opposing counsel or have other conflicts related to some of the files? Those files should not be given to the assisting lawyer and another lawyer will have to help with those, even if only transferring them to your former clients.

While the following resource is only available to Oklahoma Bar Association members, many state bar associations provide similar resources. Contact your state bar’s practice management advisor or other bar association staff to see if a similar resource is available in your jurisdiction

Planning Ahead Guide: Attorney Transition Planning in The Event of Death or Incapacity is a guide the OBA provides to Oklahoma Bar Association members. It is detailed and comprehensive, containing forms to use in planning and execution. The Planning Guide is available for free download. Log into My OKBar and select Attorney Transition Planning Guide from the list of links at the right. Your heirs may not know who an appropriate lawyer would be to be the Assisting Attorney to aid them. It will go much smoother if you have secured the Assisting Attorney’s agreement to help them in advance. Even if you haven’t finished everything the Planning Guide suggests, just accomplishing those steps will provide your heirs much peace of mind and help them get started.

And if you are a lawyer who keeps the originals of clients’ wills and estate plans, you will definitely want to review the section beginning on page 69 “Why Did We Ever Want to Keep Original Wills?”

Email is a part of our lives, like it or not. It is great when you need to deliver documents to another state without paying for a courier. But between all the spam, the phishing attempts to attack your computers and an appreciation that most emails contain a request for you to do something when you are already busy, email can be a source of daily frustration.

40 One-Sentence Email Tips is a quick read with some great tips, particularly the first two. And allow me to confer VIP status on number 8: “A good email with a bad subject line isn’t a good email.” This article is rated PG-13 for mild language.

There are a few of these that I question, especially for our profession, like the one suggesting if you want a question answered, end with the question. Given how busy people are and how often we get interrupted, I’d suggest opening and closing with your most important question.

One of the best tips the author shared was to unsubscribe from electronic mailing lists that you never (or rarely) read. If you just can’t bring yourself to do that, consider creating a folder for those emails and creating a rule where all messages are routed into the folder. At least they won’t clutter your inbox and when you do decide to delete them, they are all in a handy folder.

Way back when I practiced law, few one- and two- lawyer offices prepared a budget in advance for the year. Their budget, and in many cases their “partnership” distribution formula, was the tried-and-true formula “you eat what you kill.” Had we questioned the lawyers about that omission, many would have responded that budgets weren’t important because that wasn’t real money. Revenue received was real money and they generally understood their monthly overhead requirements. Yet these same lawyers would have advised their business clients that running their business without a budget was a terrible idea.

Why should a solo or small firm prepare a budget? appears in the annual finance issue of Law Practice Magazine. It is written by OBA Practice Management Advisor Julie Bays and me. This is such an important subject, especially for lawyers starting a new small law firm. The article covers the basics and is targeted toward lawyers with little background in accounting.

A budget is a plan. Sometimes things don’t go according to your plan as we all learned in 2020. But attempting to reach one of your primary business goals, financial security, deserves advance planning and this feature should help small firm lawyers who have never prepared a law firm budget head in the right direction.

Our smart phones are so powerful and there are so many apps available for them, it is hard to keep up with everything that is possible.

For iPhone users in the legal profession, Jeff Richardson’s iPhoneJD site has been a resource for many years. If you are interested in a new app, you can go to iPhone JD’s “Index to prior posts” and you will likely find a review of the app. In fact, it is likely Jeff has reviewed prior versions of the app as well. One of the other popular features is his regular news roundup In The News. Now there is a new In The News podcast, brought to you by Jeff Richardson of iPhone JD. His teammate on the podcast is Brett Burney. Many are familiar with Brett and his Apps in Law podcast.

The podcast from these two app experts is slated to cover “the news you need to know from the past week covering iPhones, iPads, and related mobile technology.” It is definitely a fun podcast. Here is the Apple podcasts link: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/in-the-news/id1569070000

The most recent podcast covers how apps helped New Orleans resident Jeff Richardson. The story is fascinating and demonstrates real value delivered by apps and a novel way he used an iPhone Shortcut to facilitate communications when cell service was almost nonexistent.

Years ago, there was a lot of discussion in the legal community about metadata, the hidden data contained in documents that had the potential to reveal more about the document than most lawyers would like. It was a potential problem when using forms from a past client’s matter as a form for a new document in a new client’s matter.

Most law firms adopted the practice of using “cleaned” documents and templates for their forms rather than reusing a prior client’s work. Today I am sharing a great article from Law Technology Today on how that cleaning process works: Clean Up Your Docs with Microsoft’s Document Inspector. If you didn’t recall how to remove the metadata from a document, there is a fair chance that others you work with didn’t either, so this may be a good link to share with others in your office.

Just this summer I was reminded of how easily it is for metadata to mislead. One of my programs for the current OBA Summer Series was a presentation on client portals. As I prepared to send my PowerPoint to the OBA CLE Department, I noticed that the author’s name was an ABA staff person who certainly didn’t prepare my PowerPoint. She did, however, prepare the PowerPoint template for ABA TECHSHOW 2021 where I gave an earlier version of this presentation. I changed the author’s name to my name, but it wouldn’t have been a problem had I not noticed. A lawyer who had billed a client for preparing that PowerPoint would have probably been asked about the other author, unfamiliar to the client, had something similar happened. The same could happen with a Word document.

Microsoft’s Document Inspector is a tool lawyers need to understand and use as needed. But there are some tips to using it correctly, such as the two things you must do before using Document Inspector, which are contained in this great article.

 

This is a blast from the past, well, from 2015. Who is your Document Czar? If you work in a business where creating and managing documents is a major operational function, you do have in-house expertise. You must. So who is your top document expert? Who advises the shareholders on document creation and retention policies? Who assists with designing the various templates your firm uses to create certain kinds of documents? Who do you reach out to when an important document is fractured by mysterious formatting issues?

Microsoft Word is extremely powerful and can be used for all sort of automation and other powerful operations. But someone has to take the lead on this. From the July/August 2015 issue of Law Practice Magazine, here is my piece on Your Document Czar. Hiring someone to do this may be more challenging than you think. So the best plan may be in invest the resources to encourage one or more of your current employees to expand their skills. But you have to give them the time and resources to do that. Documents are a big part of what we do. It is time to think more about doing it better.