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Billing and collecting, like any other technical art forms, are a mixture of discipline, attention to detail and creativity. While all attorneys have their own habits, good and bad, examining the effectiveness of one’s preferred practices can help the solo or small firm practitioner improve the bottom line. � Keep inventory moving. Hours are lawyers’ business inventory, even when they’re on an alternative billing system. Once attorneys realize they are “turning” their inventory, just like a manufacturer or a restaurant does, they realize that the sooner they send bills, the more money they will make. Here are some thoughts on speed and efficiency. First, attorneys should keep brief notes during the day, contemporaneously with doing their work. Use a regular place and method for writing down that note, such as a small, lined memo pad that sticks on a daily planner page. At the end of the day, notes, which can be as brief as simply a name and a word, can help attorneys remember what they did. Second, solos should commit their notes to bona fide time entries within 24 hours. That maximizes quality and quantity of time and the description the client receives of the hours worked. It’s easy when an attorney is working on one, large matter. But if she is racking up five or six matters a day and fails to write down how she spends her time, the days start to run together in her memory and she’ll need to spend twice as long making sure about when she did what. Also, writing down time on the same day she works the hours helps a solo remember more of what she did, and she actually will be able to bill more time. Third, solos must send invoices promptly. Aim to print rough drafts of invoices by the second business day of the month, with the correction and mailing between the seventh and 10th day of each month. Sending a bill promptly makes it much more likely the client will pay it promptly. Clients are more inclined to pay for services rendered when those services are fresh in their minds. Also, regular clients notice neatness and orderliness in a billing process and prefer an orderly attorney. � Create good habits regarding content. Lawyers are trained to think through word choice, diction and sentence structure. But then the evil twin of the lawyer seems to write the billing memo, because most attorneys seem to forget all their training when recording their time. One rule that many lawyers forget, especially those in the business world, is that billing memos are subject to the rules about confidentiality and attorney-client privilege. Solos and small firm lawyers must master the art of describing with specificity the task accomplished for the client without actually detailing the advice given. For example, compare “Discussion with J. Doe concerning issues of fraudulent representation and breach of fiduciary duty to limited partners” and “Discussion with J. Doe concerning possible issues arising in connection with relationship with limited partners.” A client reading either bill will know and remember the content of the discussion, so the descriptions are equally clear on that front. However, the latter description is better, because it won’t communicate to the rest of the world what the lawyer thought about the issues the client raised. Young lawyers who work alone or in a small firm must know that, if they want clients to pay them more than minimum wage, they need to learn to describe their jobs in a manner that indicates they’re worth hundreds of dollars. Again, compare “T/C J. Doe, proofread documents” with “Telephone conference with Ms. Doe concerning the several, remaining open-deal points prior to closing and discussion of possible resolutions and acceptable compromises. Attention to preparation and finalization of the closing documentation, with regard to execution and enforceability issues raised by the required legal opinion, and transmittal of final drafts to Ms. Doe.” Which one of those entries looks more like it’s worth $200 per hour? When attorneys write their billing entries, they need to remember that they’re simultaneously marketing to their clients. Take the time to describe services rendered to put the work in its best professional light. The habit of thoughtfully drafting a bill, in the long and short run, will not waste time but rather will produce better results. SET UP RITUALSCreate systems and rituals to ease billing stress. Athletes and other performers use a wide range of rituals to ensure peak performance, ranging from emotional aids, such as a lucky pair of socks, to scientific techniques, such as relaxation, visualization and biofeedback. If rituals work for calming competitive or performance stress, they can help take the stress out of billing. The basis of ritual is a system or routine. Routines that baseball players use before stepping up to bat — watch, they all use them — are designed to put a player in the best place in his mind to hit the ball. Although lawyers generally don’t make as much as baseball players, they can nonetheless use habits to calm their unruly minds. The billing process is stressful. Use systems and rituals to get through it. Unlike attorneys who work in large firms who have little power to change the billing system, solos and those who lead smaller firms can set up billing systems tailored to their own strengths and weaknesses. After 15 years of setting up systems to enter my time directly into the computer, I have concluded that I was trained to think while I write longhand, so my thought process is not as automatic when using a machine. (I admit I am a dinosaur.) I finally gave in, and now I buy beautiful French notebooks and use favorite pens from a local art supply store for timekeeping purposes. It is a form of self-bribery, but it works: I enter my time and send my bills on a timely basis. Rituals also can help solos achieve the earlier-mentioned goal of recording time daily, if they set apart the same time each day to write down hours worked. I prefer to take the last half hour of the day to clean my desk, put away my work and write down my time. Sometimes I am too tired or I have to go to a meeting in the early evening, so I will do it first thing in the morning. A daily habit is the better practice. Solos and small firm lawyers should think about how to make rituals work for them by asking how they can set up their work space, work tools and work time to help make the billing process a pleasant habit. Billing is not the best part of a solo’s day. Do not make it worse by getting stuck in bad habits. Record time worked and send bills promptly. Think about the content of billing statements — for attorney-client privilege and marketing reasons. Finally, set up rituals that will reinforce positive habits. Adrienne Randle Bond, a Houston solo, focuses on complex corporate, partnership and securities law; oil and gas transactions; and mergers and acquisitions. A magna cum laude graduate of Rice University and a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar at Columbia University Law School, she has served as an adjunct professor of corporate law at the University of Houston Law Center, is a past president of the Women’s Finance Exchange, and is a member of the State Bar of Texas’ Corporation Law, Continuing Education and Venture Capital committees. Contact her at [email protected]

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