Whether you bill by the hour or as flat fees, as a service professional, tracking your time is one of the most important pieces of the billing pie. This is because irrespective of what you ultimately collect for your efforts, without tracking your time, you will never be able to calculate if you are charging enough or if you are profitable.
Tracking time and getting paid for it is part of the day to day workflow of any business, and having the right process, tech and people in place to capture, record, track, invoice and, most importantly, collect on your receivables is extremely important to the health of your business.
In an upcoming post, I will go over some of the techs I recommend to organize the time capture process, but before doing so I need to stress – just adding new tech to the mix will NOT solve your time and billing issues.
You will need to DO something different; and you will need to make the new process a habit. This means, sometimes you will have to FORCE yourself to work the new way. However, once you see how much time you’ve “lost”, and your receivables take a big jump because you are accurately tracking your time, that’s when positive reinforcement and the rewards of working the new way kick in and tracking time is no longer a chore but something you are happy to add to your daily to do. Until you get there, you may need to kick your own ass a bit is all I’m saying!
Not only do you get increased and steady cash flow as a reward to organizing the time capture process, you also gain a better administrative view of your business, as you also capture all the general office/non-billable time in your day so you can begin to see what tasks may best be performed by someone other than you (aka delegate).
So, the rewards of organizing the time capture process are: increased and steady cash flow; a better sense of control over your time; and a better administrative view of your practice.
My next post on organizing the time capture process will give practical considerations and ways to capture your time – from a good old paper time sheet (<-downloadable as a pdf) – to apps and digital doodads for those more electronically inclined.
If you have not already done so, subscribe to the blog using RSS or input your email address above to get the next post delivered directly to your inbox!
- Wow is right! RT @satstokes FL bar alleges that lawyers set up DWI arrest of another lawyer http://ow.ly/wMIIT
- 7 Things You Can Do on Friday to Make Monday Awesome http://ow.ly/wMRGO
- Did not know -> Google acquired gmail.com from Garfield, the cartoon cat. See 25 Years of Internet infographic: http://ow.ly/x0AOs
Ever increasing numbers of attorneys hanging out their own shingle are in dire need of administrative assistance, but do not have the space, equipment or even workload to warrant hiring an employee.
This means many are forced to spend hours each day on the administrative duties required to keep their practice in business, taking away from more productive activities of networking and client development and even personal time.
While some may enjoy having total control, there is only so much time in any day and working 16-18 hour days every day takes it’s toll.
Fortunately, a better solution is available in a little known industry which is taking the business world by storm: virtual assistants.
What is a VA?
Virtual Assistants or VAs are business owners who provide administrative and other services virtually — through the use of electronic communications (the internet, telephone, e-mail, fax and instant messaging), couriers and even US mail.
Professional VAs accomplish assigned tasks from their own well equipped office, have years of experience in their chosen field, and are considered contract vendors and not employees thereby eliminating the expense, hidden costs and headaches inherent in the employer/employee relationship. And, since they are virtual, you don’t even need to supply space, let alone equipment, software licenses or training to work with a VA.
While you can locate a VA for almost any service imaginable, common administrative duties performed by VAs include word processing, desktop publishing, contact and calendar management, accounting/billing, reception and travel arrangements and web based account work.
Where Can I Find a VA?
I get asked this question all the time and there is no one size fits all answer (outside of my own business, of course!). Since every VA is an independent business owner, the services offered, methods for transfer of work and costs vary. Rates range from as little as $25 to $100+ per hour or more based on the services provided and experience of the VA.
A good place to start is to google “virtual assistant” and your location/zip code to see if any local candidates are available for interview. If you are not going to go with an established nationwide service, then I strongly urge you to find a local assistant. This is because someone who is local to you, hopefully with “legal” experience, will be able to provide a much more tailored service than a foreign national. A review of a VA’s website should give you a good indication of services available and should provide a little information about the VA too.
Whether working with a single VA or an established network, always look for certifications, experience within your industry, type of work and/or software/technology used.You should also get referrals/testimonials of existing clients, where possible.
In many instances a VA becomes a strategic partner of their client’s business, offering suggestions for improvement of processes, methodologies for workflow, options for increasing revenue, as well as by providing access to their own network of contacts within the growing VA industry itself!
The Devil is in the Details:
Before deciding on a VA, you need to determine what you want them to do. Start with a list of duties you do not like doing, you are not properly trained to do, or projects you never seem to be able to get to. This will give you a framework to decide what you wish to keep on your to do list and what you wish to outsource to your VA.
Once you have found a VA to work with, it is imperative that you sign a contract or Terms of Service, specifying the nature of the relationship, types of services to be provided, deadlines/project parameters, costs, billing procedures and any other details. This is to avoid potential misunderstandings, as well as confirm that the relationship is of an independent contractor nature.
Just Do It
In short, if you are tired of taking care of the administrative tasks of running a practice, want to explore taking your company’s business processes to the next level, or simply could use a hand with a specialty or large project, consider locating and hiring a Virtual Assistant.
To begin, fax works.
All you need a dial tone and, in today’s day and age, almost any multifunction printer; but many firms maintain separate fax machines.
If your firm uses a physical fax machine, that does NOT make your practice old fashioned, you out of date with technology or any of the other negatives legal tech pundits like to say about attorneys who “still” use a physical fax machine.
Here are just 5 reasons why I say a fax machine beats fax to email:
1. SECURITY – email is more of a postcard than a sealed envelope. When you use a fax to email provider and you ask clients to send you credit card and social security numbers – unless your service gives you the option to encrypt (I don’t know of any that do) or holds your faxes for review while securely logged in to your account – like Onebox – then you are openly emailing data and information that you should not be openly emailing. Period. Ask your credit card processing company – they gave you terms for the collection of information … which I’m sure you read … yes?
Let’s face it – identity theft is not rampant due to dumpster diving!! Don’t let your business processes open up your client’s personally identifiable information to the world wide web.
2. SPEED – it is MUCH faster to put a document on a fax machine, dial the number and hit send vs. putting document on scanner, scanning document, finding scanned file to save to client file; open browser; log into fax tech; start new fax (that’s usually 2 or 3 clicks); enter fields of information for cover sheet (which you have to go find in another application to block/copy); locate and attach actual file you scanned; and ~ FINALLY ~ hit send. <-NOTE: any interruption in this process can add a few minutes to hours to the time it takes to actually send the fax.
3. CONFIRMATION – you get a confirmation when a fax is complete; if it didn’t go through or if the wrong number of pages were sent. Fax to email – you get nothing or perhaps an email from your provider that you sent something – but not a confirmation that it was received. That is because email is NEVER a sure way to communicate.
4. SERVICE OF PROCESS – fax is a way to serve documents which is accepted by many courts. I believe it’s (and I’m going back over 13 years now…) if a law firm publishes their fax number – in their signature block or on their business stationary – then service can be effectuated upon them at that fax number. Email – not so much. Perhaps if a firm agrees to accept service by email before you send … but then you’re not openly emailing documents which contain confidential client information are you?!? see #1 above.
5. NO INTERNET NEEDED – need I say more?
A fax machine is a piece of equipment I recommend to all law firms as it provides an efficient and secure method to electronically transfer documents which does not require the internet.
Even to those who still prefer fax to email, having a fax capable machine is a perfect back up for the faxing process whenever the internet goes down.
You cannot diminish the contributions of those in the trenches – supporting the attorneys and law firms, courts and corporations – making sure your families and businesses are protected.
The tech companies can keep selling the notion how their latest this or that can remove the live, thinking brain in the process of getting legal work product done.
I stand here today to tell you it simply cannot.
Sure attorneys can type. Most use technology every day. Does not mean it is the best use of their time, focus or energies.
So this post is for those who help them, who get the paperwork done, the information collected, the calls returned, the bills paid…
My best wishes and heart felt thanks to my fellow administrative professionals…
… with a little diddy from one of my favorite artists and a HT to those of us not doing it the way our mothers always have …
- OneNote vs. Evernote @computerworld http://ow.ly/vBs8a <-good article outlining what/how they both work best
- EVERYONE READ UP -> How Heartbleed Works: The Code Behind the Internet’s Security Nightmare: http://ow.ly/vDXLQ
- All the 60 Sites in 60 Minutes from #ABATECHSHOW (2000-2013): http://ow.ly/vLppf
I am very excited to welcome our newest sponsor for The Legal Connection Community Site. Many thanks to:
FIRM CENTRAL, the mobile-enabled, securely hosted practice-management solution for solo and small firms, by Thomson Reuters.
We acknowledge and appreciate the support of Thomson Reuters’ Firm Central and the on-going support it brings to our members, practicing attorneys and their staff.
About our Sponsor:
Firm Central securely connects attorneys and their staff to the documents, data, files and research necessary to get the work done – all from one easy log on. Firm Central keeps firm information and client data safe and secure, while readily accessible to authorized users 24/7. It simplifies law practice processes, relieving firms of the expense and busy attorneys of the stresses involved with establishing, configuring and securely maintaining on site equipment and software.
About The Legal Connection:
The Legal Connection is where attorneys and those who work in legal gain fresh ideas and practical insights to streamline processes and sharpen the practical skills necessary to conduct the business of law on and through the web.
Thank you Firm Central for your support of The Legal Connection!
Are you interested in reaching attorneys, their staff and those in the legal IT community? The Legal Connection Community Site has many options and levels of sponsorship and welcomes all who wish to contribute! For more information, contact me at andrea @legaltypist .com