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Attorneys dream about the big fee coming in the door and all the problems that will be solved when it arrives. However, the dreams a solo or small-firm lawyer have in mind may not be the best option in the long run. Use most of the money to prepare your practice for the future, rather than splurging on indulgences — although some of the funds should go toward rewarding yourself for a job well done. After returning to the office from that badly needed vacation (a large fee indulgence), consider the following when deciding how to invest for the future. Because cash flow is not quite the issue it was before the dough started rolling in, devote some billable time to reassessing your practice. This may seem odd, but it’s the equivalent of rebalancing your financial portfolio after a good year for stocks. Look at your existing goals and financial history to determine what has worked and what has not. Revise the goals, if necessary, and determine an action plan to dedicate your practice to those goals. Examine your caseload. Determine where limited hours are best spent, and rid yourself of cases that fall outside your goals or just aren’t worth the time. Because there are only so many hours to work each year, refine your case selection to increase the revenue generated by your limited billable hours. Invest time and money in improving the staff and technology at your firm, thereby improving operations, and delegate specific functions to someone else. Keep in mind that the time required to perform this review is more difficult to find than the money, but there’s no better time to delve into the task than when the end-of-the-month time and dollar crunch is not as high. Because you likely do not know all the ins and outs of improving personnel and technology systems, and because you do not want to devote time to figuring out what someone else already understands, bring in experts, consultants or coaches to help. Our clients bring us their legal problems rather than handle them pro se; follow the same advice for your business problems. DREAMS COME TRUE Once you devote the time and money to reassessing and investing in your practice, here are some ideas for what to do with the remaining funds: � Pay down debt. Interest rates may be at historical lows, but it’s unlikely they will stay there indefinitely. A cash influx provides the chance to pay down debt to keep it from hindering your practice later. � Obtain disability insurance. Many solos have life insurance but fail to cover themselves for the more likely scenario of a long-term disability. “Every year, 12 percent of the adult U.S. population suffers a long-term disability,” according to an article, “Disability Insurance Can Save Your Life,” on the MSN Money Web site. In addition, the odds of a 35-year-old suffering a three-month or longer disability before age 65 are 50 percent, according to the article. Nonetheless, because disability insurance can be expensive or difficult to obtain, many attorneys fail to cover themselves for this forgotten risk. If you have been waiting for the right time to evaluate insurance, this is it. � Establish a cash reserve fund. Cash reserves are necessary for riding out the bumps in the road and allowing you to invest in the next big case. A cash cushion also allows solos and small-firm lawyers to keep their minds on reassessed goals rather than chasing new sources of funds that lie outside their practice goals. Cash also will be needed for the inevitable tax ramifications of your success, so set aside enough to keep a cash reserve after tax day. � Fund your children’s education and your retirement. Children often grow up too fast for parents to prepare adequately for college bills, but every little bit helps when those bills arrive. The same holds true for your retirement. Time is on your side when planning education and retirement, so putting away as much as possible as early as possible is important for reaching your goals. However, establishing a monthly payment plan, rather than just making a large one-time payment, may allow you to continue the payments long-term and ensure that you do not put your money into the investment when it is overpriced. � Reward those who helped you get where you are. Most likely you and your client were not the only ones waiting for that large fee. Your family supported you on those late nights. Your staff worked weekends and kept your other cases moving while you focused on the big fish. They need to be remembered because they suffered with you. The rewards need not be large, but they need to be devoted to thanking them for their help. After all, you will need their help again on the next big case. While this topic provides many possibilities, the most important can be addressed now while others are reserved for later. If you devote the time and money to reassessment and investment, you increase the chances of obtaining a large fee again and addressing the remaining items on this list. After exhausting the list, your dreams can come true. Donald E. Teller Jr. is owner of the Law Office of Donald E. Teller Jr. in Colleyville, Texas. He received his master’s degree in business administration from Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business and his J.D. from SMU Dedman School of Law. He is in his fifth year of teaching law office management at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in Fort Worth.

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