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You’re on your first big trip for your new firm. You’re running late for your flight, but you remember to ask the attendant at the parking garage for a receipt. You stuff it in your pocket and run for the plane. You think you’re doing well. After all, you remembered to keep it, right? Wrong. You’ve just made a big mistake. Receipts, those tiny scraps of paper, can make the difference between quick and easy reimbursement for traveling expenses, and protracted delay or worse — having to eat the costs incurred on the road. Here’s a quick course on how to use and keep receipts to protect your money while representing clients away from the office. Get to know two sets of rules: the firm’s and the client’s. Some larger firms have orientation sessions to explain to new lawyers what the accounting department needs from them. If yours doesn’t, or the firm’s travel policies and documentation requirements are unclear, don’t make assumptions about how money issues should be handled. Paula Forney, the accounting manager with the Dallas office of Cooper & Scully, notes that some variations from firm to firm include providing travel advances versus asking lawyers to turn in reimbursement requests, or issuing firm credit cards vs. expecting attorneys to use their own. In addition, she says many clients specify what they will and won’t pay for when it comes to attorney travel, e.g. level of car rental, or coach vs. first-class flights. She urges traveling lawyers to make sure they know their firms’ and their clients’ guidelines before assuming that extras — such as spa privileges or renting movies in the hotel room — are allowable. Remember, someone has to pay the bill; if the firm or client doesn’t, the lawyer might end up stuck with the tab. Mary Peikert, controller at Brown McCarroll’s Austin office, points out that many clients pay their firms on a flat- or fixed-fee schedule, “so any savings you can do on the cost side helps you on the fee side.” Those types of payment arrangements mean that cutting costs on travel will boost the firm’s profit. Ask the right questions. As part of getting to know applicable travel policies inside and out, Toni Lamb, regional manager for Lawyers Travel Service’s Dallas office, advises attorneys to find out whether their firms use in-house agencies or allow lawyers to book travel online. Jamie Bombara, accounting manager at Brown McCarroll’s Austin office, adds that some firms have special deals or corporate rates with particular rental car agencies or hotels that allow the firm to get better rates. Because many new attorneys simply aren’t used to being on the road two to three times a week, Lamb says they need to be clear about when they want to leave and return, whether they’re dealing with a travel agent or booking online. She also says they need to know whether the tickets they’re buying are refundable, voidable or changeable, with or without a fee. She cites a study her company did in the late 1990s that found that lawyers change their travel plans as many as seven times before they depart; that means some online nonrefundable deals that look inexpensive might not be the best option. Lamb also cautions inexperienced travelers to know the definitions of some terms. For example, a “red-eye flight” departs after midnight on the date booked. Some attorneys inadvertently reserve their red-eye for the day before they want to leave, so they end up paying a fee to change the date or might even have to buy a new ticket. She says that’s particularly embarrassing for new attorneys who are conscious about not costing the firm extra money. Other steps she says new attorneys can take include finding out whether it’s cheaper to fly into a different airport, such as landing at Orange County instead of LAX and renting a car, or flying into Newark instead of LaGuardia and taking the train. If lawyers plan to do a deal in downtown Houston, is it closer to fly into Hobby instead of Bush Intercontinental? Lamb also urges attorneys to be on the lookout for possible traps for the unwary: If the deposition is in Kansas City, is the destination in Missouri or Kansas? She warns that upgrades can be a big problem, too. New attorneys who travel with senior partners (who’ve attained airlines’ elite senior status) sometimes say, “Just put me in whatever he’s in,” then have a hard time understanding why they can’t fly first class, too. Finally, don’t overlook some of the perks of being a road warrior. Lamb reminds new attorneys to sign up for frequent flier programs. Eric Cardenas Jarvis, a civil litigation associate with the Law Office of Ramon Garcia in Edinburg, Texas, says last year he racked up enough frequent flier miles on one case that he was able to take his family on a vacation. He notes that, when practicing law requires attorneys to travel and spend time away from family, it helps to know there’s a benefit at the end of the road, like taking a spouse and children on a trip. Get permission. Sometimes, it’s not enough just to hit the road. Someone specific may need to sign off on the anticipated travel expenses before the traveler incurs costs. Bombara points out that a section head may need to sign off on CLE expenses or the marketing manager may have to approve a client dinner. Having your ducks in a row before spending the money will pay off at reimbursement time. Bombara says if the attorney procures those authorizations before submitting an expense report to the accounting department, it will speed up the reimbursement process. Carry some cash. It’s probably a good idea to stop at the ATM before you leave. Don’t leave home without a firm or personal credit card, but remember that credit isn’t universally accepted. Edward F. Maddox, a civil litigation and oil and gas associate with Person, Whitworth, Borchers & Morales in Laredo, Texas, says one of the most important lessons he learned was: When you’re out on the back roads with a client, you always need to carry cash. He ruefully recounts this story: He and a colleague were working with a client out on a ranch when they decided to go for lunch at a well-known, small-town establishment. However, when they arrived, they saw a sign advising patrons who wanted to pay with credit to go to Helen Waite. Unfortunately, neither Maddox nor the other attorney had enough cash with them to pay for lunch. He says their client was happy to buy their meals, but has enjoyed ribbing them about it — and how the attorneys would have had to go to “hell and wait” for credit — ever since. Save, label and organize receipts. As any veteran business traveler can attest, keeping receipts is critical. Bombara says firms often must provide clients not only with detailed bill breakdowns, but also with the supporting documentation the traveling attorney turned in. More and more, she says insurance companies pay legal bills, because client-companies purchase liability insurance that covers litigation costs. Those insurance companies, in turn, enforce their own set of travel guidelines; they may refuse to pay for travel of less than 20 miles or movies in a hotel room. The bottom line for her is this: Credit card statements are simply not good enough; attorneys must provide actual receipts. COST-EFFECTIVE ALTERNATIVES Remember that airport parking garage receipt you stuffed in your pocket while running to catch a flight? A handful of crumpled receipts will be difficult to sort out back at the office, especially if the journey involved handling multiple cases. Therefore, Jarvis recommends writing the matter’s file number on the back of the receipt. He also suggests taking several small Manila envelopes that can fit in a suit pocket. Put receipts for different matters directly into the correct envelope, instead of stuffing them in a pocket or wallet. That alleviates trying to figure out whether the taxi receipt was for the Smith case in Chicago or the Jones case in New Orleans. Traveling doesn’t just raise issues when handling more than one matter on the same journey. It also raises questions about who has to bear costs that wouldn’t have been incurred back in the office. Monica Latin, a business litigation partner in Dallas’ Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal who travels herself and also approves other attorneys’ travel expenses, thinks firms should have a clear policy about what expenses get charged to whom — if an attorney uses a fax machine, what’s the firm policy about how those types of charges get recorded? For example, if an associate flies to Chicago to take a deposition in one case but works on a brief for another case at the hotel and faxes it to the partner she’s working with, Latin says it’s important to make clear on the hotel receipt what the charges are, and include notations if there’s a question about how they should be reimbursed. Know the options. Latin also urges attorneys to explore cost-effective alternatives. “I have been shocked and amazed by some of the fax and long-distance charges at hotels, and, on a practical level, it’s good to know what the alternatives are, like calling and dictating changes rather than sending a fax,” especially if the changes to the document are fairly minor. She says using a firm’s telephone calling card may be cheaper than simply dialing directly from the hotel room, while using a cell phone may be less expensive still. Once back at the office, submit receipts in a timely fashion. Latin points out that by holding onto them, attorneys run the risk of forgetting what they’re for or even turning in receipts to the accounting department on a client’s case that’s completed. Even if the file is still open, she says clients don’t like to see old charges on their bill; turning paperwork in isn’t just about appeasing the accounting department, but also about being mindful of client relations. Asking for help with travel-related forms and procedures can be a shrewd move. Lynn Gates, an administrator who works in Matthews and Branscomb’s San Antonio and Corpus Christi offices, says secretaries often help young associates and show them what they need to do. Her advice to new attorneys is to “visit with your secretary and listen to the secretary if she asks you, ‘Did you turn that in?’ “ Bombara says she actually prefers that attorneys let their secretaries do expense paperwork. She says secretaries are more familiar with paper flow and organization, so they know who needs to give approval, and they make sure the proper form is filled out and includes the client number. It’s also a good idea to know how quickly the firm processes reimbursement requests. Bombera says her firm runs them Tuesdays and Fridays, but someone invariably wants a check on Wednesday. AN EASIER WAY Many small firms aren’t large enough to have an accounting department, so lawyers need to be able to oversee the processing of their own expenses. According to State Bar of Texas statistics, as of Dec. 31, 2002, 60 percent of Texas lawyers in private practice work in firms of five attorneys or less. D’Layne Peeples, a Canyon family law and criminal-defense solo, works in a small town where she and two other lawyers share office space, two secretaries and a legal assistant. She says she travels primarily to attend seminars and charges everything on an office credit card. Because she uses it exclusively for business, she knows all charges on it are work-related. She also keeps receipts, and stores them in a Manila folder labeled with information about the trip they document, what the expense was for and the dates. She uses a computer program to help track expenses. Every check written on the office checking account is entered into the program, along with information about what it’s for. If she keeps up with that, she says it’s easy to deal with the end-of-the-year bookkeeping and tax time. She simply prints out the data and gives it to her accountant. Whether you’re a solo or one of 100 new associates, keep receipts and be sure to follow whatever the approved accounting procedure is. As Maddox says, “It sure makes your life easier if you have the receipts and you give them to your secretary, and you get a reimbursement check without ever having to think about it again.”

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