President's Message Nov/Dec 2018

Resolutions for Your Practice
Carolyn R. Barone, Esq.

President, Rhode Island Bar Association

“Without detracting from the need for all of us to put into action what we have learned during the past year on health and wellness and the need to stay on this track, I am shifting gears and focusing on the health of our law practices.”   
Happy New Year!  How are you doing with the resolutions you made on this past New Year’s Eve?   Join the gym club, yet?  Stopped smoking?  Spending more time with the family?  Drinking more vitamin water and less adult beverages? The beginning of the New Year is the perfect time to take stock in ourselves and our law practices.

My immediate predecessor, Linda Rekas Sloan, focused her year of Bar presidency on lawyer health and well-being. Her President’s Messages addressed the necessity of lawyers taking care of their bodies and minds.  She provided us with reminders of the Association’s outreach programs including Lawyers Helping Lawyers, a premier program providing confidential and personal guidance before life and practice issues become critical, and where to turn in the crush of  turmoil and crisis.  Linda was the catalyst for engaging a professional wellness coach to write about how we can stay healthy and still enjoy life.  A couple of months after I took office, Aon presented its cost-free seminar to our membership.  The guest speaker wasted no time and minced no words when warning us about the prevalence of mental illness and substance abuse in the legal profession.  We have been bombarded, and rightfully so, with the warning signs of how our best legal practices buckle and collapse under the weight of a distressed mind and body.   
I recently reviewed the American Bar Association’s Report of its National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being.1 I urge all Bar members to read this Report.  Digest its import on our profession. Without exception, our emotional and physical well-being has a direct impact on the well-being and profitability of our practices.  Without detracting from the need for all of us to put into action what we have learned during the past year on health and wellness and the need to stay on this track, I am shifting gears and focusing on the health of our law practices. Are your billable hours getting billed? Are you paying your office staff before paying yourself? Do you fall asleep at night wondering if tomorrow will be the day that you break the cold streak and potential clients start contacting you?  If you answered any of these questions in the affirmative, then resolve to take advantage of the Bar Association committees and sponsored programs that can assist you with designing and creating a successful practice.  Following are three examples of how the Association provides care and treatment for your law office’s management and profitability. 

We are all familiar with the adage, “Time is Money.”  Do you keep track of your time?  How do you keep track of your time?  What time do you report?  Is the time you are devoting to your clients earning you a profit?  Are you even measuring your profitability? With the reasonable cost of time and billing software, there is no excuse for sole practitioners and small firms not to follow “Big Law” and invest in a time/billing system. Being faithful to a program provides three measurable benefits: first, you will get an immediate idea of how much time you waste in any given day doing anything but law work (for example, perusing your FB page, reading the latest twitter feeds, doing the Jumble puzzle); second, your bills will be accurate and complete and you will know when your initial retainer or fee advance is about to be or has been exhausted (repeat after me: “retainer, refresher, remainder”); and, third, you will have no excuse not to send out bills in a timely fashion. 

Need help with selecting a billing package that meets your needs or maximizes an existing package but have nowhere to turn? The Bar Association has immediate relief for you.  Take advantage of your membership benefit and contact Red Cabe Consulting.  (What’s a “membership benefit?” A FREE benefit.)  Red Cave has over ten years of law firm business management consulting experience and has advised over 3,000 law firms.  Red Cave can assist you with issues surrounding law office technology, marketing, financial management, and more. The Bar’s website also features regular tips from the company related to practice management, including client relations, data management, revenue goals, marketing, using social media and disaster prevention and recovery. 

Join the Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service.  This service is a great source for increasing your clientele.  Through the Bar, you will receive referrals only in practice areas you select and from persons who may have the financial ability to pay for services, as well as obtaining referrals on contingency fee matters. Don’t discount the benefits received from accepting case referrals through the Association’s reduced fee programs.  Expand your thought-process and consider that clients who retain your services through both the LRS and reduced fee programs often come to your office with a close friend or relative in tow.  This presents you with the opportunity to make a positive impression on additional persons who made need your services in the future or pass your name on to their friends and other family members.  

Last, but not least, resolve to become involved within the Association.  If you have never joined one of the Bar Committees, do so.  If you have been contributing your time and efforts on a committee or two, then consider strengthening your commitment and become a member of the House of Delegates.  Resolve, now, to participate in two, upcoming major events, Law Day in May and the two-day Annual Meeting in June. If you have any doubts about the benefits of being an active participant in these events, then give me a telephone call. If you have any doubts about the good works the Association is doing for you, then let’s have a nice chat; and, when we do, ask me about “billing by the inch.” 

 See ABA website, National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being; August 14, 2017