Host Christopher T. Anderson meets with lawyers from around the country to discuss issues they are currently facing in their practices.
Featured on this episode:
- How do I format my invoices so they convey value?
- How can I better teach systems to my team?
- What should I do when a job candidate has a few red flags?
- What is the most efficient way to have my virtual assistant write out processes and procedures?
Special thanks to our sponsors LawClerk, Alert Communications, LawYaw, and Scorpion.
Christopher T. Anderson: Before we start the show, I would like to say thank you to our sponsors Alert Communications, LAWCLERK, LawYaw and Scorpion.
Intro: The Un-Billable Hour Community Table where real lawyers from all around the country with real issues they are dealing with right now meet together virtually to present their questions to Christopher T. Anderson, lawyer and law firm management consultants, new questions every episode and none of its scripted. The real conversations happen here. This first question focuses on how to respond when clients are complaining about billing.
Female: My problem that I would like your input on is I feel like lately I’m getting a lot of clients that are just complaining either about their services or their bill that they just seemed generally unhappy. The one thing that I wish I had a dollar every time I ever heard, I’ve paid you all this money and I have nothing to show for it.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, it’s totally your fault.
Female: Yeah. What am I — what are we doing wrong? Where should I look? What do I need?
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, two things. First of all, just help me understand your billing. Do you bill by the hour or do you bill flat fee?
Female: We are billing — we have a monthly payment plan now.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay.
Female: So, we wanted to do a subscription as you know, but people didn’t seem warm up to that. But they did warm up to a payment plan. So, they have to —
Christopher T. Anderson: So, set a flat fee with a monthly payment plan or monthly forever?
Female: The way it’s explained is they’re billed hourly, but they just pay — but almost like how, you know, how you can get your electric bill, like amortized over the year.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah.
Female: Sort of like that.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay. So, but they get a bill every month?
Female: They get a bill bi-weekly.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay. So, the answer to number one is your bill suck, apparently, because you’re not communicating value in your bills. So, that’s one source of the complaints. And the other source of the complaints is that it sounds like you’re probably not doing the 7390 post-hire call, 7-day, 30-day, 90-day post-hire calls. So super important. Do you eat at restaurants?
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. You know what? When you have been delivered the food, shortly thereafter the waiter or somebody else comes to your table and ask you a question.
Christopher T. Anderson: What do they ask?
Female: How is your meal?
Christopher T. Anderson: Every restaurant, everywhere.
Female: The good ones anyway, right? How’s your meal? Are you enjoying yourself?
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, the good one is trained to ask that after you’ve taken the first two bites. Why do they do that?
Female: Customer service?
Christopher T. Anderson: No.
Female: Don’t give you an opportunity to complain?
Christopher T. Anderson: No.
Female: To make you feel like they care.
Christopher T. Anderson: No, not even that. Here’s how it goes. This is customer experience and it translates completely to law firms. You can’t do it before the food has been delivered. That wouldn’t make any sense. So, they do this. And so, this is what I would call the seven-day call. This is where somebody in your first year reaching out to every new client seven days after hire. How are things going with us so far? Why is that? Because when you’ve taken a couple of bites and if it’s not to your liking, you’re now giving the restaurant an opportunity to convert your experience to a positive one because if they do it right, you say, you know, this is overcooked, undercooked, blah-blah-blah. They should take it away and then bring it back better, like the sucky restaurants, like bring it back like where they warmed it. Like, they lose this opportunity. But the right ones like put some extra garnishes on and make it — maybe even give you a completely fresh steak and do some stuff and make it better than it ever was. Because now, when you’re done, you don’t remember that you complained. You remember what they did to make it right? It’s a positive experience. If the manager were to come at the end of your meal and say, “How is your meal?” And you said, “My steak was overcooked.” That’s just a complaint. What’s he going to do now? You ate the damn thing. You don’t even you’re not even hungry. So, there’s like this, what’s he going to do? Give you a coupon? Like it’s all he’s doing now is mitigating the bad, trying to make it less bad. He has no longer has any power to make it a good experience. That’s the seven-day call. You call him after about seven days. How is it going with our services to you? A 30-day call. Since you bill bi-weekly, this for you is actually a 14-day call. This is what you want to be doing shortly before the first bill. This should be by an attorney who’s managing the case usually, or even a paralegal, but better the attorney. I hope — you know, I know we only talked about it a week ago, but I always like to call our clients before the first round of bills go out to kind of let you know what they look like, what to expect on them, how to read them and to make sure that you know how to reach out to us if you’ve got any questions about it.
And before this, you email them a sample bill, not their bill, a sample bill and you go through like, where stuff is on the bill and how you talk about things. Oh, and by the way, how are things going with your situation? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Great. Again, this is your second opportunity to get a good customer experience and you teach them how to read a bill because maybe your bills actually don’t suck, but people aren’t reading them, but actually probably that your bills suck, but it could be that they don’t. Then, the 90-day call is literally a 90-day call because now they’re deep into the case enough. So, they either love you or they don’t. If they don’t, you fix it. And if they do, here’s where you start working on their testimonial. You want to get the testimony while there’s still a client, while they’re still happy. Nobody’s happy at the end because they just got divorced and it sucks. So, you want to get that positive feedback or negative feedback that you then can fix. It’s now more or less a complaint, but you’re still working on.
Christopher T. Anderson: 7, 30, 90 bills. Read, grab a bill that went out. Grab two, not one that you send out but from other people and read it. And if every line doesn’t convey value, then it’s a bad bill. What do I mean by convey value? What you did, nobody cares. Like if it says anything about what you did, phone call with opposing counsel, drafted motion to restrict parenting time, whatever, nobody cares think about saying it in words that mean something to the client instead of, had phone call with opposing counsel, say called or receive call from opposing counsel to resolve dispute for client on this issue so that she can get her goal. Like don’t say the word her goal, but like you specify the goal so that she can get more parenting time, so she can be less frustrated with her husband’s attitude, whatever it is. You know, instead of drafted much to restrict parenting time, it should be like jumped on client’s need to protect children from abusive spouse by working on the necessary court papers for that purpose, like positive action but always with how it benefited the client in every single line. We all want to bill the sausage making. Now, turned the handle. That’s what most bills look like. Turn the handle three times. Turn the handle five times. Turn the handle two times. And they don’t care. They really don’t care. They want to know how it benefited them. And then, you’ll stop getting the questions about nothing and nothing’s happened. Nothing’s been done because that’s what they’re seeing. And I haven’t seen a single one of your bill. So, I could be totally off my rocker, but that’s usually causes lead to effects. That’s usually the cause at least to be affected to that complaint.
Female: So, like how would you put an entry drafted complaint or drafted pleadings?
Christopher T. Anderson: I wouldn’t.
I would say, based on client’s goals in this case, initiated the case in such a manner as to achieve goal one, goal two, goal three by filing the initial paper work or drafting and filing the initial paperwork in court.
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Male Speaker: Our second question addresses the difficulty a lawyer is having teaching systems to the team and managing them.
Female: I feel that I have built a law firm for I am the hourly, daily ringmaster of the shit show, and I’ve been working really hard and intently for the past six years on system, system, system that still in my knowledge and putting it in systems so that people automatically know what to do. I have some very good people and some not very good people.
There’s resistance to running the systems. And then, I bring in new people and I try to teach them everything I know as quickly as I can, but it kind of requires me to still have like a death grip on the case work and a lot of other things honestly to make sure that this isn’t getting dropped or this isn’t being done incorrectly. And so, it’s occurred to me that there’s probably a component to this that is a ‘me’ problem. And I think that what I really need to do is make sure that I have the right managers in place and empower the managers to manage and make — I don’t know. We wouldn’t call it a rule or a goal, but to say these are the standards.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah.
Female: You get it. It seems like such a huge mountain to climb to get that.
Christopher T. Anderson: It’s not.
Christopher T. Anderson: It’s not. There’s a fundamental problem. I’m going to speak a little generically. So, don’t make it just about your firm. But everybody probably knows I’m a pilot. When you fly commercially, there’s two of you. There’s the captain, that’s you. There’s the co-pilot, that’s your team because we put your key. I have a co-pilot in charge of this and a co-pilot in charge of that. When someone comes to work for a new airline, they don’t know the systems because you’ll be shocked by this. But a Delta 737 is not the same as an American 737. The systems are different. You have to learn how to fly the American or you have to learn how to fly the Delta. And when you transition from one to the other, you’ve got to relearn the systems top to bottom. And what does not happen is a co-pilot doesn’t come in and sit down in the right seat and the pilot starts to show them all the systems and say, this is the system and this is the system and this is the system and this is the system and this is how it all works and the co-pilot studies and says, “Yeah. I got it. I got it. Understood.” That’s how it works. And then, they go fly around. That’s not how it happens. Because if that were the way it happens, the captain could never leave his or her seat because the right seat is not tried. The right seat is not accountable. The right seat has never had to face the situation on their own. The right seat doesn’t have any criteria by which they can judge their performance. And if there’s performance is subpar, nothing bad happens because the captain has to use your words a death grip on the yoke. So, the way it actually works in this situation is that the co-pilot is sent to Sim school, and there are a list of criteria by which this co-pilot is going to be judged to see how they perform on these systems that they were supposed to learn. And the consequences, if they don’t perform up to standard, which I love that you use that word, they wash out. They’re done. They’re out because there’s lives on the line. You know, they have to be able to take care of the plane in an emergency with the captain incapacitated. That’s their job. There are jobs most of the time and this is where your firm comes into play, too. Most of the time, their job is to share the load. So, cockpit resource management is what their real job is. And so, when there’s two pilots up there, you do these things, I do these things and it switches all the time, but the communication and who’s going to do what is very clear. So, bring this back out of the cockpit and into law firms, and, you know, I have some unfair inside knowledge. But the problem that I believe you’re facing that many of us do face is not the lack of systems. I think you actually have pretty good systems. Yours is a lack of accountability. There are no consequences for failing to follow the systems. People still make their bonuses. People still keep their jobs. People make it is where I just know you’re from a little bit, but it’s like I know that people make outlandish projections about revenues and it’s become a habit. It doesn’t matter. I think David Nagel, one of the things that David Nagel has said has always stuck with me because it described me during a large part of my life, but it also describes all of us during little moments all the time, which is we get in the habit, each of us, of being unfaithful with our word to ourselves. You know, I’m going to eat better today and then you don’t. I’m going to have one last less glass of wine and you don’t. I’m going to get up at 5:30 and you don’t. And this becomes a habit or I’m going to make six sales calls, but you make five.
And we get okay with breaking our word to ourselves. Well, our employees get even more okay. When the boss doesn’t hold you accountable to what you promised to do, give an accurate projection, hit this sales number, hit this conversion rate, get demand letters out by a certain amount of time of case on desk, hit cases to mediation by a certain amount of time. Okay, whatever the criteria are once or twice and the inmates are running the Asylum because there’s no consequence. They’re worse than kids. Employees are worse than kids with this stuff. They need account and I don’t want stay strong hand because that’s not it. It could be a very soft hand but a clear accountability. You said you do X and you didn’t. I can’t rely on you to do X. What’s the plan to get you to where you’re reliable and I can count on you? Because that’s what accountability means is I can count on you and I think that’s where you’re struggling right now is that you have a culture that accountability is not the main value of the business and, I mean, I know you love your team and you have a personal relationship with your teammate and they’re great people. But if you want to step to where you want to step, you know, you can’t do it all yourself and you’ve got to rely on them to do their parts. And, you know, for you, it’s still a small team that you need to do that. But the only way you can do that is to be able to be confident in their ability to execute. And the only way you could be confident on their ability to execute is to start on accountability and to have consequences, real ones, and you’re going to lose people over this. You lose the right people over this.
Female: Right. You know, you’re exactly right. And I think that there is kind of a bigger mindset issue with this because somebody said to me recently, you don’t have to suffer for success. And it’s just, you know, is it a contest to see who’s the most long-suffering person who can withstand it or is it getting a different mindset to say, “Wait a second. I do not deserve chaos. I do not deserve low quality work or unnecessary financial stress and these are the standards that I’m setting for my own self. This is what I will tolerate and not tolerate.”
Christopher T. Anderson: And you know what the real cool secret is? They want this. They crave it because they will become better performers and try not to make every answer a book recommendation. But like this is where you stay. If you’ve ever read ‘The Five Levels of Leadership’ by somebody.
Female: By Maxwell?
Christopher T. Anderson: Maxwell, thank you. This is how you step from three to four. This is how you step from being a leader who induces productivity to a leader who develops leaders. That’s where you need to be now. You’ve brought the firm as far as you can as a Level 3 leader. You got to step into that Level 4.
And what I would recommend it would be a fun thing to do is do that assessment in the book and have your team do it for you as well as a 360.
Christopher T. Anderson: It’d be eye-opening.
Female: I’m sure.
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Male Speaker: Our next question is from a lawyer seeking clarity on whether or not to hire a drag in.
Female: I was recently reached out for by an attorney, and she’s a partner at a pretty large firm in Pennsylvania. And for family reasons, she is moving to Maryland to be close as a family, to be closer to future —
Well, upcoming grandchild, and she’s at the point she’s busy. She doesn’t really need to work long hours like she’s saying right now. So, she reached out and say, “Hey, I want to be a paralegal at your firm.” I talked to her and we agreed to meet. And then, she called and, purposely, I’m really busy and I have very limited of time. She called us and she say, “I really need to meet sooner.” And then, we scheduled her to bring her in four days sooner. But then, it means that it has to make a decision quicker which I really don’t like to do in the rush. So, my question is, so, she wants to be a paralegal. I felt longing in heart, draft, sends the documents, made assistance we haven’t placed, and she’s not — would not be a good use of her time. But where I could use her would be a drag-in position doing consultations. She actually is going to know quite a bit about the state planning and things like that. The concern was that one that she’s just going to — and this was expressed. I let her and have my team interview her, and they kind of voted for probably not to make an offer because they were afraid that she’s going to kind of take over and just kind of boss everybody around and difficulty our legal position or drag-in position doesn’t come visit assistance and things like that. And then, as a partner for larger firm, she might have a struggle and. And then, eventually, she gives the legal advice and then trouble.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah.
Female: So, and just because she was kind of pushing so much stuff and here, initially, now she was asking for quite a bit less, but then she came. She told us that was pretty interested. Then, she kind of change her mind how much she would like to get paid and —
Christopher T. Anderson: How much does she want to get paid?
Female: So, initially, she emailed to say she would like to get paid in the 50s. But then, when she came to the office, she said, “Look, I came to Frederick Maryland. Now, that I see the prices, not as she came and look at the building and price was there and, in Philadelphia, the price was not available.” Now, she wants to be paid, you know, maybe in the 70s.
Christopher T. Anderson: A drag-in typically gets paid on performance for a large extent of their pay where you’re at. Do you not pay on performance for the drag-ins?
Female: I try to hire a drag-in, and it was not a successful way.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. So, to me, I’ve heard four or five red flags for this one. First of all, the change of the appointment time, like you jumped, none of these are fatal on their own and then you have to make the decision and then the deal has changed and then your team thought that she was going to be bossy, which I don’t know if they would say that to anybody who’s in this role, but I just also have a bias against hiring attorneys for paralegal role. It’s not that I’ve never done it. It’s not that it hasn’t been successful. But on balance, I find that stepping back into that role is requires like high EQ, the kind of which would have figured out how to put your team at ease in their interviews and she didn’t. So, on balance, I would price and say this is a pass.
Christopher T. Anderson: Listen, you know, this is five minutes. It’s really — I feel that it’s a bit unfair to make that kind of call in five minutes and I could be very, very wrong. But, you know, just based on the way you presented it, you just kept passing by red flag, red flag, red flag, red flag. And like I said, none of them fatal on their own. But on balance, I think this is a high maintenance person who is going to be difficult.
Female: That’s kind of the same impression I got because she was here for five days. And I talked to her and I say, “Would you like to meet on Thursdays? That’s where you get a chance to look around” and, you know, she was looking for housing here and everything. You know, in my mind I was thinking, okay, my kind of busy week is going to be kind of almost behind. So, I can concentrate on this and yeah, she totally called and re-scheduled herself. Okay, yeah. Thank you.
Male Speaker: This final question is from a lawyer who wants to know the most efficient way to have their VA helped write out processes and procedures.
Female: So, my question is this, I have a VA onboard, and I’m trying to figure out what’s the most efficient way to have that person help me write out processes and procedures.
Christopher T. Anderson: Teach them to her. I mean, it’s that simple. So, the way I would do that is either you, whoever knows the procedure now. If they’re not written out, first of all, record, record, record everything and sit them down and if it’s like if you’re going to show them how to do it on a computer, do a screen capture while you do it, like a screen recording, like Camtasia or I just use a QuickTime to be quite honest.
It’s just as good. Camtasia is nice and so many clicks because it shows like a little bouncy ball on the screen. But like seriously, you should think about this. This is my one and done. I am going to teach the stuff one last time. I’m going to teach it well. I’m going to be thorough. I’m going to let her ask questions. We are going to record it all, so she can go back over and over and over the recording. And then, she’s going to draft it and present it to me for review. Personally, I don’t review them because I just never get to it. And so, I learned like what I won’t do. That’s one of the things I won’t do. So, when they’re drafted. I hand them off to another member of the team, not to review it. I say, “Do this thing. Follow these instructions.”
Christopher T. Anderson: You know, build a peanut butter and jelly sandwich using only these instructions. See what happens.
And then give feedback to VA as to how it went, and your expectation should be that no SOP is ever right the first time. It’s always wrong. And if you ever doubt that, write out how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and hand it to somebody else and see how they screw it up. It lets you tell the problem. They only follow the records.
Male Speaker: Thank you for listening. This has been the Un-Billable Hour Community Table on the Legal Talk Network.