Allison Shields (AS): What is the main message of The Lawyers Guide to Increasing Revenue?
Pete Roberts (PR): The firm’s leaders must focus on managing revenue—not simply cutting costs. Avoiding unnecessary costs is expected. But think of this: each new file each day affects revenue directly. Paying adequate attention to how both the work and the client are managed yields improved financial results.
AS: Who is your book written for? Who would get the most out of reading your book?
PR: The managing or administrative partner, because the book offers a broad view of the necessary actions to improve morale and client satisfaction that lead to improved profits. That said, we recommend that the firm’s bookkeeper have a copy of the book to be reminded of what we say about the important role the bookkeeper can potentially play as well as the book being a handy reference in the extensive appendices for financial definitions and analytic tools.
AS: What inspired you to write this book?
PR: Real-world observations of disappointing efforts to improve financial results—or another way of saying that there are obstacles to action since, understandably, lawyers prefer to practice law over managing people. That said, small steps can lead to observable results over time.
AS: What experience, knowledge, or special training helped you to write this book?
PR: Working both within law firms and consulting to many other practices of various sizes to gain a deeper understanding of the varying dynamics of the lawyer-client relationship—we feel extremely fortunate to have been able to observe many practices across a range of practice areas. Indeed, differing practice areas require different approaches to implementing change.
AS: What problem faced by lawyers does The Lawyers Guide to Increasing Revenue solve/address?
PR: The need for both leadership and “buy-in” from the lawyers—we mention “leaving money on the table” and recognizing the value of the legal services provided. A related example is understanding “realization” and its importance when write-downs of fees occur.
AS: How is this book different than other books written on this topic and/or what is new or different in this edition of the book?
PR: This edition adds descriptions of what other law firms are doing while highlighting the importance of actively managing client relationships to achieve improved financial results. We include in the book a range of policies and procedures that illustrate the necessary structure so to speak for a more successful firm. One example is a five-part client intake policy:
Part I—The Firm’s Area of Practice
Our law firm provides value to its clients by concentrating in the practice areas of land use and real estate litigation. The firm accepts clients with issues in the following practice areas:
- Real Estate Litigation
- Environmental Matters
- Real Estate Development
- Zoning and Planning Board Proceedings and Appeals
- State Agency Permitting and Procedures
- Tax abatement Applications and Appeals
- Eminent Domain Matters and Regulatory Takings
Matters not related to the above practice areas will not be accepted without the specific approval of the managing partner.
Part II—Initial Client Meeting
It is the policy of the firm to follow these procedures during the initial client meeting:
- Make sure there are no conflicts of interest
- Listen to the client’s story
- Relate back to the client the significant parts of the story
- Determine the specificity of the client’s objective
- Describe to the client the law that applies to the problem
- Share with the client the matter plan or case plan
- Identify additional needed information
- Establish the method of charging legal fees and provide the client with the amount of the fee or a realistic estimate
Part III—Fee Agreements and Fee Deposits
It is our policy to have a written fee agreement for every matter and a fee deposit for all new clients.
- A fee agreement shall be executed for every matter prior to beginning the work
- For every new client, the lawyer shall obtain from the client an initial fee deposit (to be set based on the magnitude of the work to follow but in no event less than $2,500) prior to commencing work
- The fee agreement will clearly designate whether the fee deposit is to be held until the end of the work or, in the alternative, utilized for payment of the ongoing periodic statements and to be replenished prior to being exhausted
- Exceptions to the fee deposit requirement may be made, with the approval of the managing partner, for repeat clients for whom it is deemed not necessary or not attainable
Part IV—The Reality Check
The client must appreciate the difficulties and costs of going forward.
- Have a discussion with the client at the end of the initial client meeting to be sure the client is prepared for what is to follow
- Make a point of discussing the potential difficulties of the case and the burdens it will place on the client’s life
- Be sure the client appreciates the costs involved and is prepared to pay for your services
Part V—Confirming the Plans
- The lawyer is responsible for completing the documentation of the arrangement
- A signed copy of the fee agreement should go to the client and a second copy to the file
- The lawyer should acknowledge in writing the receipt of any fee deposit and the fact it is being held in the firm’s trust account
- The lawyer should send a letter covering any additional aspects of the representation that are not covered in the fee agreement. The letter should be used to further manage the client’s expectations
- Identify the methods and best timing of properly communicating during the matter
- Identify possible emergencies, if applicable, and how to handle them
AS: What was your biggest challenge in writing this book?
PR: Keeping the reader energized rather than overwhelmed—we do not discuss how to write winning appellate briefs, or taking depositions, or drafting contracts. When discussing numbers there is a risk of the reader tuning out—and we understand that!
AS: What do you think will surprise readers most about your book?
PR: It could be the de-emphasis on cost-cutting and heightened expectations of the support the bookkeeping staff should be providing and perhaps the highlighted nexus of law firm morale and client satisfaction. Satisfactory numbers result from these “behind the scenes” actions with proper leadership.
AS: What is the most important takeaway readers will get from The Lawyers Guide to Increasing Revenue?
PR: As the subtitles suggest, the book really is a do-it-yourself manual for how best to manage a law firm along with the importance of properly using financial software all in only 206 pages! As is amply illustrated, relatively small increases in revenue can and do yield a larger percentage increases in the firm’s profits.
AS: What advice would you give to others who want to write a book for the Law Practice Division?
PR: Practice management topics can be dry or lack the ability to resonate. Try to be as engaging and entertaining as possible such as using humor and storytelling. We all love learning from those who have, “been there and done that and indeed have the t-shirt!” Keep the prose positive!