By Ally Kennedy, CEO and Founder AMIGA Lawyers
Those of us who are running a law firm know that the business aspect can be difficult when we "just want to do the work." If we want to be able to support our families while doing what we love, then we have to be making money. There are some common mistakes that many of us make when it comes to running our businesses which affect our bottom line. I moved my practice into the six figures by implementing small changes to financially protect and empower my firm.
1. Bill Regularly
It sounds simple enough but for some reason many of us have a difficult time following through with billing the client. Whether you charge a flat fee or an hourly rate, clients should be receiving a bill every month at least 7 days before the billing due date. Put all of your clients on the same payment schedule (mine is the 15th of each month) to make billing easier.
The thought of billing should be exciting because it means that we are making money, but for most of us there is a huge sense of dread that comes along with this task. Most of our clients pay their monthly installments without even needing a bill, but billing increases the receivables each month. It also allows you to have an idea who is paying and who isn't so you can make some friendly reminder calls if needed.
Billing is necessary, so you only have two options: (1) do your own billing or (2) have someone do the billing for you. I decided to use a Virtual Assistant to handle my billing because I did not like it thus I was always running behind. Now my VA reports to me who has paid, who hasn't, and follows up with clients directly for me.
2. Charge an administrative fee
There are many costs that cannot be covered by the attorney's fees and the expenses but can be proportioned to the client. Costs such as a case management system, legal research program, file folder, file labels, and the like are all related to particular cases. By adding a flat, non-refundable legal fee, you can recoup some of those costs on the front end.
3. Bill for expenses
Billing for expenses is one of those things that one would think is simple, but for some reason this one trips up many of us. I struggled with this a lot. If you are mailing with any sort of tracking system, you are incurring a cost. A FedEx bill of $20 here and $20 there can quickly add up to several hundred dollars that are coming out of your bottom line. Per the contract, costs are the responsibility of the client. (There should be a clause in your contract about the client's responsibility to pay case costs.) Many case management systems allow for you to input your client's expenses, but a simple spreadsheet will also do the trick. Try to write down all the expenses as they are incurred instead of backtracking each month attempting to figure out who to bill for what.
4. Reevaluate pricing
A large majority of immigration attorneys use flat fee billing. It is important to evaluate your pricing on each type of case. Instead of looking just at the amount, think realistically about the amount of time that you are working on the case. It is easy to underestimate the hours on a case that we have done so many times, like a straightforward Adjustment of Status.
Whenever I considered raising my prices, I fought against myself so hard and gave all of the reasons that we should not do so. Finally, a lightning bolt struck me as I found myself working on a case and grumbling, "I don't get paid enough for this." I realized, I am my own boss. If I am not getting paid enough, it is because I am not asking for enough. I control the pricing. I spoke with trusted colleagues about their pricing on various cases and their reasons for selecting those prices. I went through my list of prices and found where I was undervaluing my services and myself, and changed the price accordingly.
5. Protect yourself in your contract
Take a hard look at your contract and make sure you are fully covered. For example, a clause about how a missed appointment will incur a charge means that you will be less likely to lose money in a lost block of time if a client does not show up. Due to the large rate of RFE's issued in I-601A, a specific clause about there being a minimum charge in responding to an RFE would protect you as well as manage client expectations from the beginning. A catch-all extra work clause that covers things such as undisclosed immigration or criminal history is also a great way to be sure that you are properly compensated for your hard work.
About your Ally in Life, Business and Law:
Alexandra "Ally" Kennedy is a national award-winning attorney and the founder of AMIGA Lawyers and Alexandra Kennedy Immigration Law.. After becoming a mother, and in a matter of 3 months, Ally transformed her practice from earning in pesos to earning 6-figures and she is passionate about teaching attorneys how they can do the same. Ally empowers lawyers to be the CEOs of their law firms with her weekly blog, webinars, and conferences where she teaches step-by-step how to do the work they love while running a profitable legal business. Ally lives outside of Seattle with her partner and their 5 children.