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Partnership, the Holy Grail of law firm life. You’ve made it. You’ve survived the trials and tribulations of associatehood — the long hours and all-nighters, the impossible deadlines and the unreasonable clients. Congratulations. The transition, however, from associate to new partner will be one of the most demanding and challenging times of your career. You will have all the typical associate responsibilities, e.g., producing a high quality work product, meeting client deadlines and expectations, and maintaining sufficient billable hours, along with a whole new set of responsibilities. Among these are billing and collection, business development, firm administration, assigning and supervising work and numerous nonbillable, but necessary, tasks. By now you are probably wondering if it is humanly possible to manage it all. We’re happy to tell you that it is. A little bit of “organizational” planning now will help you to ease the transition and manage your new responsibilities. In this article, we offer some organizing tips and tricks which you can adapt to suit your own personal style. BILLING AND COLLECTION Many partners will tell you that billing and collection is their least favorite aspect of the private practice of law. An often thankless and time-consuming nonbillable task, billing and collection chores typically find their way to the bottom of most “To Do” lists. However, there is probably no better way to endear yourself to your fellow partners than getting your clients’ bills paid quickly and in full. Most firms typically use specialized software programs that interface with the firm’s software for tracking billable hours, client expenses and payment. Despite the automated nature of billing, errors often occur requiring reviewing a bill’s content by hand. However, a good organizational system should allow you to delegate most of the administrative aspects of billing to a secretary (e.g., the form of the bill, the form cover letter). Sit down with your secretary and develop a standard plan for billing and collection that will be followed each month. Set deadlines for yourself to review the bills and for your secretary to mail them. Studies have shown that clients are more likely to pay bills quickly and in full when the matter for which they are being billed is still fresh in their minds. Develop standard forms of bills (e.g., summary form or time entry form) and cover letters, if one will accompany a bill. You should explain to your secretary which client gets which form of bill and/or cover letter so that he or she can format the bills prior to your review. If you choose to save copies of your clients’ bills yourself, one way to do so is to create a billing binder for each client. The first insert in this binder should be the paperwork to open the client matter and a copy of the engagement letter. It is useful to refer to the engagement letter from time to time to ensure that you are honoring any special billing arrangement that may have been reached with the client at the time of engagement. The next inserts should be copies of the bills in date order, tabbed by your secretary to indicate which have been paid. Another filing option is to have a separate section in the matter file itself, such as a manila folder, specifically for invoices. Again, separate or in some way indicate those bills that have been paid. You will find either system very useful in addressing client questions, complaints and requests for additional copies. Some firms have begun experimenting with client extranet sites (secure portions of the firm Web site accessible only by a particular client through a protected password) to house client billing information. Such sites, which provide the client with access to its billing information on an instant 24/7 basis, can result in savings of both time and money in that the billing distribution process is made virtually paperless. While billing software tracks overdue invoices, unfortunately there is no software to get such invoices paid. That is up to you. Set time aside on a periodic and regular basis to review your collection reports and follow up with your clients. Often a simple phone call will get a check in the mail the next day. However, if a problem does exist with collection, again it is better to know right away before significant additional time and expense is run up on the matter. MAKING RAIN At some point in your partnership life, bringing in new business will become just as important as billing time. Each seminar, meeting and event you attend will become an opportunity to bring in more business. Keeping track of each potential client is an important aspect of your new partner responsibilities. As your contact list grows, it is important to have a system for keeping track of whom you meet and when and where you meet them. While every attorney has some form of contact management system, now is a good time to decide whether that system will be adequate to handle your growing list of contacts. In addition to recording names, addresses and numbers, contact management software is a good way to record when and where you met the person and any other pertinent information about them you would like to remember. Always make sure that you keep some of your firm’s marketing materials in your briefcase before heading to any event. Keep, or have your secretary keep for you, a few generic marketing packets that can be picked up as you head out the door. At a minimum these should include a firm description, your professional profile and a business card. If time should permit and you are preparing for a specific client pitch, your marketing package should be tailored to address the client’s business and needs. Once a contact becomes a potential client, have a section of your filing cabinet reserved for this purpose. Keep folders listed alphabetically by client name or by practice area where you can keep notes from the initial consultation. Should this prospect become a client of the firm, you will have all your notes, conflict checks and client materials, which can then be transferred to the new client/matter folder. Schedule on your calendar a follow-up call with potential clients perhaps on a monthly or bimonthly basis. Firms typically have standard engagement letter forms that can be customized to apply to the type of clients you are dealing with. These can then be stored together in a labeled computer file for easy retrieval. Once the client is actually retained and a client matter file is opened, make sure that each file contains folders, clearly labeled, for any categories you might need, such as correspondence, drafts, research and final documents. ASSIGNING WORK You’ve made the transition from getting assignments to giving assignments. Well, instead of just keeping track of your matters, now you get to keep track of your work and the work of those associates you supervise. If you were one of those “I keep it all in my head” types, now might be a good time to rethink your organizational strategy. Managing a team of people and matters can become a logistical nightmare. Whether you chose to use the computer or paper, you will need to keep some record of the matters you are responsible for, which associates are handling which aspects of the matter, and when you expect to receive completed assignments. One way in which to do this is to create a form spreadsheet that can be updated on a weekly basis. Another option is using Microsoft Outlook or similar task management software that has the added benefit of automatically reminding you of when assignments are due. For larger projects or litigation work, a white board can break down the many facets of the project and let you have a big picture perspective at all times. An important aspect of assigning work is allocating it fairly. A simple status report form can be created and circulated to each associate on a weekly basis. Associates can indicate information such as what matters he/she is working on, the partners in charge of each matter, and the amount of time he/she intends to spend on each matter for that week. With such a form, you would know what each associate is working on and their availability to take on new work. NONBILLABLE ACTIVITIES Bill, bill, bill and bill — that was the mantra of associate life. While billable hours will always be important in the private practice of law, nonbillable activities will play an equally important role in partnership life. Each seminar that you give, each article that you write and each trade group that you join will become a source for potential clients and will help you to build your practice and your reputation. Just as with client matters, it is important to organize the materials you generate and collect with respect to your nonbillable activities. Set aside a section of your file cabinet for your nonbillable activities. Organize the files therein by general category, e.g., speeches and seminars, authored articles, trade groups and bar associations, with subfolders for the specific items within each category. Since these files are referred to less frequently than client matter files, they tend to become overrun with papers and disorganized. Make sure you clean out these files on at least an annual basis. In addition, maintain a file with a list of the speeches and seminars you have presented, the articles you have written, the trade groups, bar associations and volunteer organizations you are active in, newspapers and periodicals quoting you or mentioning your name, and awards and honors you have received. Such a list will be extremely useful for generating customized marketing materials and in structuring and updating your professional profile. CONCLUSION With just these few simple organizing techniques, you can make the transition from associate to partner a smooth one. A little organizational planning now will increase your productivity and efficiency, and decrease (at least somewhat) your stress level. While billable hours will always be important in the private practice of law, nonbillable activities will play an equally important role in partnership life. Jan F. Arkwright and Debbie Selig Harwin are former practicing attorneys and principals of JD Organizing Consultants, a Manhattan-based company providing CLE seminars and organizing services for law firms and attorneys.

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