8
   

Attention Lawyers, Attorneys, Paralegals, Please advise!

 
 
Reply Wed 4 Mar, 2009 03:21 pm
Do you use Westlaw? Is there really anything comparable?

Do you use specialty software, like Abacus or Tabs3, Practice Master, etc?

If not; what system do you use for calendar synchronizing, billing, contact management, advertising, credit checks, etc. More detail is MUCH better.

I’m in the process of taking over the business end of an incredibly disorganized law practice. I’m hoping some of you have done this before. Imagine an office that uses NO software whatsoever, beyond Microsoft Word… and saves every document in “My Documents” without even using sub-folders. Imagine billing sheets going into one massive pile to be searched through (and compared to jacket notes) when it’s time to bill a client (really.)

So far:
I organized the files, both physical and the “My Documents” disaster… and will hit the closed files this weekend. I’m wondering what program works best for computer files. I’ve tried Casemap, and it’s pretty impressive, but it only handles the one task, really, and I’m looking for a more comprehensive solution.

I’ve entered the mountain of billing sheets into Excel for easy movement later. Previously, billing was done in Word… without even using a Template. It would appear that mostly people paid up front and/or during their cases but scarce few have paid a nickel after the final disposition. It wouldn’t appear too many were even asked to do so, as evidenced by ease I’ve had recovering previously forgotten about billings. I can do this in QuickBooks, but again, I’m thinking there’s a better more comprehensive solution that would automate some of the data movement.

I’ve begun to build Templates for common Motions, Notice of retainers, etc… but know there’s a better way to do this too. Abacus Law, for instance, claims to have the ability to auto-generate documents off of blueprints. For instance; build a Notice of Retainer form with drop down selections for jurisdictions, that is capable of culling info from the intake sheet and automatically spitting out the Affidavit, the accompanying courtesy letter and the envelope in one fell swoop. Seems pretty simple in theory, so I’m guessing there are options.

Calendaring. I’m tired of sharing his caveman book and would like to know what people are using and liking best. I suppose I’ll start using Outlook for the time being, and syncing it with his Blackberry… but what I’d like to do is have his calendar double as a billing diary. I know for a fact this guy leaves a couple hundred dollars a day on the table in uncharged phone calls alone, and I aim to change that.

Billing: As near as I can figure, he billed about a Quarter million last year and probably left 100K on the table for no good reason. Anyway, I expect to double that this year (and take a healthy chunk for my trouble.) I’m not talking about padding anything. This guy is legitimately busy 50+ hours a week; he just doesn’t do a good job of keeping track of who’s behalf he’s working on, nor billing regularly… and prior to hiring me; did virtually nothing to collect monies due that didn’t magically find their way to the office on their own. Great for referral business; bad for the bottom line.

I suppose I should offer an update on me while I’m at it. Bounced around a little after my restaurants failed, and haven’t found anything I really like since. Well, I fell in love… but that wasn’t to be… at least for now... so I'm pouring my energy into something else for the time being. Anyway; having enjoyed debates with some of you lawyer types; I thought I’d see if I liked working with the law. Since I’m profoundly unqualified; I signed up for a paralegal class with Boston University, figuring that nifty piece of paper would help me get my foot in a door somewhere.

A week after starting school; I landed a paralegal job here in Milwaukee, where my boss was more impressed with my failed restaurateur status, and prior management experience than the prospect of my attaining that piece of paper. He figured he needed someone who wasn’t afraid to jump in with both feet and take over the day to day business end of his business. He’s largely computer illiterate and so has seemingly every employee he’s had since opening shop. I suspect this place would be intimidating in its disorder for even a seasoned pro, but as a novice; I consider it an interesting challenge, and a terrific way to earn while I learn.

In my employer’s defense; he graduated law school, and immediately went to work for a well organized firm with all the I-dotters and T-crossers well trained into place. It wasn’t until he decided to hang up his own shingle that he realized how very much goes into running a business. No worries. I’ll take care of this.

In the short term; I want to get the place running as smooth as possible, with as many of the repetitive tasks being automated as possible. This alone, combined with a proper billing system should double the revenues. By the end of the year; I expect to have re-organized his schedule so that he is busy doing little but running from court to court, practicing law. I’ll soon be taking over client intake, and pre-qualifying/selling our clients to the point where their initial consultation is more a formality than anything else. I already rubberstamp most of the documents I create and as time passes I’ll require less and less input to their contents. Since my tuition included broad access to Westlaw for the duration; my research is already far faster and more thorough than his is anyway; and my briefs and motions require little more than a proofing and signing. Old-School just doesn’t/can’t measure up.

By next year; I expect to have established a steady flow of new clients sufficient to start taking on associates. At the end of the day; it’s a business. If advertising returns more dollars than it costs; you win. I’m told beginner-lawyers can be had for 50K a year + bonuses; and I expect to be able to bill 3-400K out of each (not including any paralegal time). That leaves plenty of dough for rainmaking and overhead.

My initial thought was to do some paralegal work as a way to audit the profession so to speak to see if I’d like it. The way things seem to be coming about; I don’t know if I’ll bother with Law School or going after the bar. I may just focus on the business end where my experience is already proving quite valuable. I am wide-open to taking more IT courses, however, as I am very envious of people who already know the answers to the questions I’ve asked above.

I will appreciate any experience and insight anyone can offer on those questions as well as the no doubt dozens of things I haven’t even thought of. I’m a rookie here, so please don’t assume I know anything!

Yikes, I’m babbling out of control here. Anyway, I sure would appreciate learning which software works best for you (and which software didn’t) and what you’ve learned insofar as streamlining your practice.

Warm regards,
Bill
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Mar, 2009 03:34 pm
@OCCOM BILL,
Hey, sounds like a promising development, Bill! Best of luck.
0 Replies
 
Ticomaya
 
  2  
Reply Wed 4 Mar, 2009 03:36 pm
@OCCOM BILL,
Hey, O'Bill ... good to see you.

(A cautionary note ... you might have some problems if your business plan involves you -- as a non-lawyer -- sharing legal fees with lawyers. I don't know what your business plan would be, and I haven't looked at the issue, but it just strikes me as something you might want to look at more closely to make sure you are square with the legal professional responsibility rules of your jurisdiction.)

I think you would do very well should you decide to go to law school, btw. Wink

Now, to your questions ...

I use Westlaw. I've also used Lexis in the past. There is other research software out there, but I don't have any experience with any of them.

I use Abacus. I've heard good things about Time Matters.

For billing, we currently use Abacus, but might switch to Timeslips.

I create many of my more common documents using Abacus. But I don't use any "drop down" capabilities. These are Word templates that insert all the Abacus information into them.

I use Abacus for my calendar, and I sync it with my BB.
Izzie
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Mar, 2009 03:57 pm
@OCCOM BILL,
Good wishes for the next chapter Bill. Good on you!
0 Replies
 
OCCOM BILL
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Mar, 2009 04:56 pm
@Ticomaya,
sozobe wrote:

Hey, sounds like a promising development, Bill! Best of luck.
Thanks Soz!

Ticomaya wrote:

Hey, O'Bill ... good to see you.
Always good to see you, my friend.


Ticomaya wrote:
(A cautionary note ... you might have some problems if your business plan involves you -- as a non-lawyer -- sharing legal fees with lawyers. I don't know what your business plan would be, and I haven't looked at the issue, but it just strikes me as something you might want to look at more closely to make sure you are square with the legal professional responsibility rules of your jurisdiction.)
I suspect the rules may have loosened up some since you were in Law School. It is now permissible even for non-attorney’s to be partners, providing there is full disclosure of their actual title/qualifications on any and all letter-head etc, and no attempt is made to imply attorney status on the non-attorney person. This means nothing to me, as titles mean nothing to me, anyway. I certainly won’t be sharing any “fees” per se, but that doesn’t preclude me from structuring my contract with timely bonuses for overall office performance as an “office manager.” I’ll go out of my way to structure the contract to not only insure its legality; but also take the precaution of borrowing verbiage from contracts that were found binding in cases where breach of contract suits were won. Isn’t Westlaw wonderful? Wink


Ticomaya wrote:
I think you would do very well should you decide to go to law school, btw. Wink
Thank you sir.


Ticomaya wrote:
Now, to your questions ...

I use Westlaw. I've also used Lexis in the past. There is other research software out there, but I don't have any experience with any of them.
How about LexisOne? I’m told it’s a free alternative and I’m curious if the Boolean searching functions are as robust as they are in Westlaw, which frankly, seems like having every precedent ever made in my top desk drawer waiting to be grabbed with a minute’s notice.

Ticomaya wrote:
I use Abacus. I've heard good things about Time Matters.

For billing, we currently use Abacus, but might switch to Timeslips.

I create many of my more common documents using Abacus. But I don't use any "drop down" capabilities. These are Word templates that insert all the Abacus information into them.

I use Abacus for my calendar, and I sync it with my BB.
When you say, “insert all the Abacus information into them” do you mean the client specific information? As in; do you use Abacus for Contact Management, and Abacus in turn has stored Templates that will pre-fill all the client info at the click of a button? And, have you tried it on multiple forms like the Notice of Retainer/letter/envelope example I used above? (I’ve already set up the documents/printer to choose letterhead, plain paper, or envelopes as appropriate.)(Fun day, that.) Or should I be asking your secretary/paralegal these questions? (I’m all of the above + IT and janitor myself.)

I’m also curious if Abacus keeps track of linked contacts… like the ADA, GAL, Judge and clerk’s associated with a particular case, so it can grab their info for a quick pre-fill on a motion mailing as well? Or do you still have to manually pick and print envelopes from the larger database one at a time. It seems to me it would be a relatively simple task for such recurring contacts to be included as links to a contact file where one could just check-off the various recipients of a particular letter or Motion, and have it print an envelope for each automatically along with the conformed copy. Something like this:
Who to?
DA
Client
GAL
Judge
File
Such cross-links would also be handy when yacking on the phone, scheduling and whatnot.

In your opinion; does the Abacus calendar (or any other BB feature) lend itself to being used as a daily diary as well? For instance; I’d like it if every time a call was placed or received to/from a recognized number (on his BB) that it would record the duration of the call on the appropriate file, to be billed without any additional input from the attorney carrying it. Ideally, I want to find a way to maximize his billing accuracy without asking for a lot of input from him. Sidebar: He currently turns in no daily billing sheet whatsoever; rather he records time directly on files to be billed later. I KNOW lots of time is slipping through the cracks. Don’t most attorneys keep track of their time by the day, rather than just the client? I would have thought time-keeping was the number one priority in this business, and I want to see him billing for everything he does.

Thanks for letting me pick your brain! I’m leaning towards Abacus over Tabs3 PracticeMaster… but at $1,200 a license; I want to know it can do what it claims it can do.

Izzie wrote:

Good wishes for the next chapter Bill. Good on you!
Thanks Iz. I'd give anything to not be starting this particular chapter, but I can't just sit around idled in despair.
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Mar, 2009 05:13 pm
@OCCOM BILL,
I'll just say good luck by way of bookmarking this thread. I'm busy doing law stuff myself right now.
0 Replies
 
Debra Law
 
  2  
Reply Wed 4 Mar, 2009 06:20 pm
@OCCOM BILL,
OCCOM BILL wrote:

I’m in the process of taking over the business end of an incredibly disorganized law practice.


How many attorneys / support personnel? Is the practice limited? There may be some areas of the law that are more "profitable" than other areas depending on the needs of the community and the skill set / interests of the practitioners.

In many communities or localities, the area of criminal defense is highly underserved. A practice that is limited to criminal defense can be highly lucrative because there will always be a steady flow of clients who are in need of representation and who do not qualify as indigents.

Also, the legal profession is moving away from billable hours and toward flat fees. For instance, if the practice was limited to criminal defense, a flat fee schedule could be developed to handle criminal cases through two stages: The pretrial stage (where most criminal cases are settled) and the trial stage.

A simple flat fee structure can be developed for infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies depending on the severity of the offense charged. No client should be accepted unless the flat fee is paid in advance. (Criminal defendants and their families almost always find a way to pay the flat fee if the defense attorney has a good reputation for providing effective services.) Weed out the non-paying clients immediately. They constantly tug at your sleeves begging for help and they promise to pay, but they rarely pay as promised and become a drain on the vitality of the practice. Requiring advance payment (no exceptions allowed), makes it possible for the practice to concentrate on providing stellar legal services (and building a reputation) rather than expending valuable time and effort on debt collections.

LEXISONE is a great resource for access to FREE research. It provides a searchable database that is continuously expanding. Right now, you can access all U.S. Supreme Court cases and case law from all the states and circuits for the last ten years.

VERSUSLAW is also a great source for access to an affordable database:
http://www.versuslaw.com/

Quote:
STANDARD PLAN - $13.95/mo.
VersusLaw's basic legal research plan contains federal and state appellate case law opinions.

PREMIUM PLAN - $24.95/mo.
VersusLaw's Premium legal research offers access to Standard Plan case law as well as selected state source materials, and increased search engine capabilities including a citation search feature. Now includes Federal District Court opinions back to 1950!

PROFESSIONAL PLAN - $39.95/mo.
VersusLaw's Professional legal research plan provides you with all the essentials of the Premium Plan, access to additional federal specialty practice courts, and current versions of the U.S. Code and Code of Federal Regulations. Now includes Federal District Court opinions back to 1950!


When I was practicing, I switched from WestLaw to VersusLaw. It saved me tons of money. I would NEVER give up my subscriptions to the WEST GROUP's court rules book for my state. I referred to it all the time and never went to a court appearance without it. Because I practiced criminal defense in federal court, I also subscribed to the federal court rules book. I gave up all other paper subscriptions to reporters, et al.

I believe that most states have their own databases that allow free (searchable)access to court rules, statutes, and cases. Some state sites are better than others with respect to usefulness.



djjd62
 
  0  
Reply Wed 4 Mar, 2009 06:25 pm
jespah
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Mar, 2009 05:04 am
I'll be back. I used to audit law firm billings - no time to go into depth right now.
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Mar, 2009 09:36 am
Don't forget the good ol' free interwebs for legal research. I usually start research projects with a quick web search. I often find cases, articles, and commentaries that sharpen the focus of my research, so that I end up spending less time (and money) on Lexis.

All supreme court and most federal appellate court decisions are available online (here's one site -- there are others). State courts maintain their own websites, where at least some high court and appellate court decisions are usually archived. And I believe all state legislatures now maintain websites that contain their complete state codes -- which is useful if you want links to up-to-date statutes.
joefromchicago
 
  4  
Reply Thu 5 Mar, 2009 09:38 am
@Debra Law,
Debra Law wrote:
A simple flat fee structure can be developed for infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies depending on the severity of the offense charged. No client should be accepted unless the flat fee is paid in advance.

The first rule of criminal law: get paid first.
The first rule of civil law: don't sue poor people.
The first rule of plumbing: **** flows downhill.

Rules that every young law firm associate learns sooner or later.
0 Replies
 
Ticomaya
 
  2  
Reply Thu 5 Mar, 2009 09:39 am
@OCCOM BILL,
OCCOM BILL wrote:
When you say, “insert all the Abacus information into them” do you mean the client specific information? As in; do you use Abacus for Contact Management, and Abacus in turn has stored Templates that will pre-fill all the client info at the click of a button? And, have you tried it on multiple forms like the Notice of Retainer/letter/envelope example I used above? (I’ve already set up the documents/printer to choose letterhead, plain paper, or envelopes as appropriate.)(Fun day, that.) Or should I be asking your secretary/paralegal these questions? (I’m all of the above + IT and janitor myself.)

Yes. Each new case has specific information related to it. Abacus comes with pre-made intake forms and matter screens, but I modified both for my particular purpose. The intake form automatically creates a contact for both the client and the opposing party, and it also automatically creates links of those parties to the new matter. Opposing counsel also has a contact listing. So does the court, and so does the assigned judge. So, when it comes time to generate a document, I open up the particular matter, then select the form template I want to merge that info into. {Abacus can insert into PDF forms, but I don't use that capability.) I have created a rather extensive set of Microsoft Word templates that have the appropriate codes in place to merge in the info at the click of a button.

As an example, at the initiation of a new matter, I have a particular form that contains about 6 different documents, all in one file. I have other forms that contain both letters and pleadings in the same file.

In Abacus, you have the ability to "link" names to a matter. For instance, I can link my client to the matter as the "Petitioner," and the opposing party can be linked as the "Respondent." Then, when I merge the form, my client has the correct title for the matter, and I have the correct title as "Attorney for Petitioner," depending on how that is linked to the matter. The correct court, judge, and opposing counsel are also all "linked" to the matter, so the information is inserted appropriately.

I spent quite a few hours in the beginning setting up the codes to be used, and I am constantly adding to my form template directory as a new form is needed.

Quote:
I’m also curious if Abacus keeps track of linked contacts… like the ADA, GAL, Judge and clerk’s associated with a particular case, so it can grab their info for a quick pre-fill on a motion mailing as well? Or do you still have to manually pick and print envelopes from the larger database one at a time. It seems to me it would be a relatively simple task for such recurring contacts to be included as links to a contact file where one could just check-off the various recipients of a particular letter or Motion, and have it print an envelope for each automatically along with the conformed copy. Something like this:
Who to?
DA
Client
GAL
Judge
File
Such cross-links would also be handy when yacking on the phone, scheduling and whatnot.

As I said above, these parties can all be linked to the particular matter. Abacus is customizable, and you can add new links based upon their relationship to the case, and you can customize to add relationships that may not come pre-loaded with Abacus (GAL, for example). It is the linking feature that makes Abacus powerful.

I don't use it for mass mailings, but I'm sure it has the capability you are asking about, in some form or another. For example, I print an envelope for each letter, but I don't have abacus create the envelope in the merge process. I just print the envelope by selecting the address that's printed in the letter, then click the "envelope" button in Word to print the envelope. Works for me.

Quote:
In your opinion; does the Abacus calendar (or any other BB feature) lend itself to being used as a daily diary as well? For instance; I’d like it if every time a call was placed or received to/from a recognized number (on his BB) that it would record the duration of the call on the appropriate file, to be billed without any additional input from the attorney carrying it. Ideally, I want to find a way to maximize his billing accuracy without asking for a lot of input from him. Sidebar: He currently turns in no daily billing sheet whatsoever; rather he records time directly on files to be billed later. I KNOW lots of time is slipping through the cracks. Don’t most attorneys keep track of their time by the day, rather than just the client? I would have thought time-keeping was the number one priority in this business, and I want to see him billing for everything he does.

I don't know of any BB feature to be a daily diary. Abacus has a function to track calls made, and the length of calls, but I don't use it.

Personally, I keep time on a daily billing sheet. Many, many years ago I used to track it in each file, but can't imagine doing that these days.

Quote:
Thanks for letting me pick your brain!

Any time.
OCCOM BILL
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Mar, 2009 12:56 pm
@Debra Law,
Debra Law wrote:

OCCOM BILL wrote:

I’m in the process of taking over the business end of an incredibly disorganized law practice.

How many attorneys / support personnel?
One man gang + me.

Quote:
Is the practice limited?
Not really. I've seen everything from speeding tickets (mine) to capital murder, personal injury, probate, Social Security claims, contracts, etc. Focus, using the word loosely, is criminal law and matrimony, but he appears competent and experienced in all phases of law. (I've only been here a month and a half... and the peeps he had before me seem to have done more harm than good, organization-wise.)

Debra Law wrote:
There may be some areas of the law that are more "profitable" than other areas depending on the needs of the community and the skill set / interests of the practitioners.

In many communities or localities, the area of criminal defense is highly underserved. A practice that is limited to criminal defense can be highly lucrative because there will always be a steady flow of clients who are in need of representation and who do not qualify as indigents.
Milwaukee seems pretty saturated, really. Lots of hungry lawyers running around. I'm right now experimenting with a flat-fee ad for first offense D.U.I... knowing that I can all but automate the paper generation for those cases, and short of trial they require an average of perhaps 5 hours of work from "the man" anyway. I wouldn't be in a hurry to try flat fees on more complicated cases, as the attention required by "the man" varies too much. And there is just no way you can agree to baby-sit a divorce for a flat fee... that would, IMO, be economic suicide (they call enough when they pay as they go.)

Quote:
Also, the legal profession is moving away from billable hours and toward flat fees. For instance, if the practice was limited to criminal defense, a flat fee schedule could be developed to handle criminal cases through two stages: The pretrial stage (where most criminal cases are settled) and the trial stage.
That works okay for misdemeanors thru Drunk Driving, since the circumstances are generally essentially similar. Neither I nor “the man” is comfortable with using a flat-fee on more variable work; because it would create an ethical dilemma where the temptation would exist to settle cases sooner and/or with less research than may be in the client’s best interest. I’m happy to report that I work for a man who would sooner work for free than provide sub-standard service. However, that being the case, I don’t want to give him too many opportunities to do so (work for free, that is).

Debra Law wrote:
A simple flat fee structure can be developed for infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies depending on the severity of the offense charged. No client should be accepted unless the flat fee is paid in advance. (Criminal defendants and their families almost always find a way to pay the flat fee if the defense attorney has a good reputation for providing effective services.) Weed out the non-paying clients immediately. They constantly tug at your sleeves begging for help and they promise to pay, but they rarely pay as promised and become a drain on the vitality of the practice. Requiring advance payment (no exceptions allowed), makes it possible for the practice to concentrate on providing stellar legal services (and building a reputation) rather than expending valuable time and effort on debt collections.
Sounds like a wise policy... but not one my employer has employed to date... and I'm working on a hybrid version to serve the not so well endowed cash-wise. I've already set up several clients on automated billing via credit/debit card charges that they've agreed to in advance. I'm theorizing a day coming soon where those who don't qualify will simply need "someone who loves them" to sign the credit contract for them. I'd rather see monthly annuity type residual income than turn down everyone who can't fork over the cash immediately. Our fall back position to stay busy is Public Defender work (which pays dick), so there's room for considerable collection failure before the practice of taking payments becomes a loser. (Note to old-schoolers; the practice of taking CC payments is no longer considered unethical.)

Quote:
LEXISONE is a great resource for access to FREE research. It provides a searchable database that is continuously expanding. Right now, you can access all U.S. Supreme Court cases and case law from all the states and circuits for the last ten years.
In my limited experience with research; I'm not sure I'd feel like my homework was done if I only accessed the last 10 years. I guess I'll have to practice some hypos there and on WestLaw for comparison's sake. I'm probably spoiled rotten with my access to WestLaw... it includes all State and Fed and a wealth of other areas I haven't even had time to peruse. The cross references there (must be billions of internal links) make it damn near impossible to not stumble upon appropriate precedents, even if you miss with your initial search terms and connectors.

Quote:
VERSUSLAW is also a great source for access to an affordable database:
http://www.versuslaw.com/

Quote:
STANDARD PLAN - $13.95/mo.
VersusLaw's basic legal research plan contains federal and state appellate case law opinions.

PREMIUM PLAN - $24.95/mo.
VersusLaw's Premium legal research offers access to Standard Plan case law as well as selected state source materials, and increased search engine capabilities including a citation search feature. Now includes Federal District Court opinions back to 1950!

PROFESSIONAL PLAN - $39.95/mo.
VersusLaw's Professional legal research plan provides you with all the essentials of the Premium Plan, access to additional federal specialty practice courts, and current versions of the U.S. Code and Code of Federal Regulations. Now includes Federal District Court opinions back to 1950!


When I was practicing, I switched from WestLaw to VersusLaw. It saved me tons of money. I would NEVER give up my subscriptions to the WEST GROUP's court rules book for my state. I referred to it all the time and never went to a court appearance without it. Because I practiced criminal defense in federal court, I also subscribed to the federal court rules book. I gave up all other paper subscriptions to reporters, et al.
Now that sounds damn near free. I will definitely look further into that. Thank you!

Quote:
I believe that most states have their own databases that allow free (searchable)access to court rules, statutes, and cases. Some state sites are better than others with respect to usefulness.
Wisbar does a great job of organizing fill-able word form templates for most every Motion I've needed thus far, and their version of Pacer is easy enough for a child to understand. They also publish a Wisconsin Lawyer Directory that I use entirely too much. The second and subsequent times I look up the same ADA or Judge I know I'm wasting time that would be saved by better contact management. We'll get there. Thanks for your input!
0 Replies
 
OCCOM BILL
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Mar, 2009 12:57 pm
@djjd62,
Warren Z is pretty cool. Madison boy. Soz may have met him in school.
OCCOM BILL
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Mar, 2009 12:58 pm
@jespah,
jespah wrote:

I'll be back. I used to audit law firm billings - no time to go into depth right now.
Very much looking forward to your input. You sound uniquely qualified to share the do's and the don't's of billing.
0 Replies
 
OCCOM BILL
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Mar, 2009 01:01 pm
@joefromchicago,
Thanks for the link. Next time I'm in the Windy City; I'll buy you a beer... if you don't mind fraternizing with the non-attorney trash.
OCCOM BILL
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Mar, 2009 01:04 pm
@Ticomaya,
Ticomaya wrote:

OCCOM BILL wrote:
When you say, “insert all the Abacus information into them” do you mean the client specific information? As in; do you use Abacus for Contact Management, and Abacus in turn has stored Templates that will pre-fill all the client info at the click of a button? And, have you tried it on multiple forms like the Notice of Retainer/letter/envelope example I used above? (I’ve already set up the documents/printer to choose letterhead, plain paper, or envelopes as appropriate.)(Fun day, that.) Or should I be asking your secretary/paralegal these questions? (I’m all of the above + IT and janitor myself.)

Yes. Each new case has specific information related to it. Abacus comes with pre-made intake forms and matter screens, but I modified both for my particular purpose. The intake form automatically creates a contact for both the client and the opposing party, and it also automatically creates links of those parties to the new matter. Opposing counsel also has a contact listing. So does the court, and so does the assigned judge. So, when it comes time to generate a document, I open up the particular matter, then select the form template I want to merge that info into. {Abacus can insert into PDF forms, but I don't use that capability.) I have created a rather extensive set of Microsoft Word templates that have the appropriate codes in place to merge in the info at the click of a button.

As an example, at the initiation of a new matter, I have a particular form that contains about 6 different documents, all in one file. I have other forms that contain both letters and pleadings in the same file.

In Abacus, you have the ability to "link" names to a matter. For instance, I can link my client to the matter as the "Petitioner," and the opposing party can be linked as the "Respondent." Then, when I merge the form, my client has the correct title for the matter, and I have the correct title as "Attorney for Petitioner," depending on how that is linked to the matter. The correct court, judge, and opposing counsel are also all "linked" to the matter, so the information is inserted appropriately.

I spent quite a few hours in the beginning setting up the codes to be used, and I am constantly adding to my form template directory as a new form is needed.
Sounds awesome! Thanks for the detail. "Insert into PDF" will be huge, since that's all PACER will accept (unless you like faxing with bar-codes; I don't). I too use MS Word for everything else. Sounds like precisely the right solution for document creation anyway.

Ticomaya wrote:
Quote:
I’m also curious if Abacus keeps track of linked contacts… like the ADA, GAL, Judge and clerk’s associated with a particular case, so it can grab their info for a quick pre-fill on a motion mailing as well? Or do you still have to manually pick and print envelopes from the larger database one at a time. It seems to me it would be a relatively simple task for such recurring contacts to be included as links to a contact file where one could just check-off the various recipients of a particular letter or Motion, and have it print an envelope for each automatically along with the conformed copy. Something like this:
Who to?
DA
Client
GAL
Judge
File
Such cross-links would also be handy when yacking on the phone, scheduling and whatnot.

As I said above, these parties can all be linked to the particular matter. Abacus is customizable, and you can add new links based upon their relationship to the case, and you can customize to add relationships that may not come pre-loaded with Abacus (GAL, for example). It is the linking feature that makes Abacus powerful.
Powerful indeed. This portion of the program sounds a lot like Casemap... which I practiced with in school. It seemed a little labor intensive to input the info in Casemap, however, once there it made keeping track of the case a breeze. Abacus sounds like I'll be inputting the information only once and then using it over and over. That is precisely what I'm looking for. Thanks.

Ticomaya wrote:
I don't use it for mass mailings, but I'm sure it has the capability you are asking about, in some form or another. For example, I print an envelope for each letter, but I don't have abacus create the envelope in the merge process. I just print the envelope by selecting the address that's printed in the letter, then click the "envelope" button in Word to print the envelope. Works for me.
I don’t see doing too many “mass mailings” either (save maybe holidays, for networking purposes), but on multiple party suits, especially for adjournments etc, where everyone involved needs to be informed of the same thing, this type of automation will save lots of time. As a thank you for your advice; I'll throw you the code for automatic envelopes when I get it finished. One less thing... though that's probably your assistant's thing anyway.

Ticomaya wrote:
Quote:
In your opinion; does the Abacus calendar (or any other BB feature) lend itself to being used as a daily diary as well? For instance; I’d like it if every time a call was placed or received to/from a recognized number (on his BB) that it would record the duration of the call on the appropriate file, to be billed without any additional input from the attorney carrying it. Ideally, I want to find a way to maximize his billing accuracy without asking for a lot of input from him. Sidebar: He currently turns in no daily billing sheet whatsoever; rather he records time directly on files to be billed later. I KNOW lots of time is slipping through the cracks. Don’t most attorneys keep track of their time by the day, rather than just the client? I would have thought time-keeping was the number one priority in this business, and I want to see him billing for everything he does.

I don't know of any BB feature to be a daily diary. Abacus has a function to track calls made, and the length of calls, but I don't use it.

Personally, I keep time on a daily billing sheet. Many, many years ago I used to track it in each file, but can't imagine doing that these days.

Quote:
Thanks for letting me pick your brain!

Any time.
So daily billing sheets (paper I assume) is what you use. I figured that has to be the default that every attorney should use at the very least. I'll continue shopping for a more foolproof solution. Today, for instance, my guy is in trial all day, but has 3 other appearances he has to sneak out for during the course of it... and he'll be making lots of contacts during recesses. How many of those calls do you suppose he'll track for billing purposes? If you answered "NOT all of them", you'll understand why this interests me so. Maybe I should burn a $20 bill on his desk to illustrate my point. Wink
0 Replies
 
jespah
 
  2  
Reply Thu 5 Mar, 2009 02:21 pm
Well, burning the bill is all well and good but he's not supposed to bill for sneak outs if he's accounting for the time with the first, big honkin' case. E. g. if he's in trial 9 - 5 and bills it for 9 - 5 then he can't also bill 1 - 2 for a settlement conference. It's gotta be 9 - 1, then 1 - 2, then 2 - 5. Yes, the efficiency baby is thrown out with the bathwater, but this also keeps people from generating 30 hour billing days (my personal record I saw was 56).

There's more but work keeps calling and rather rudely at that. Still, flat fees for simple, straightforward matters are a good idea. Take what you typically spend on, say, the old simple DUI as you mentioned. Say (to throw out useless but easy to understand #s), $100/hr for 5 hrs, 1 hr of clerical time ($25) plus $25 in miscellaneous supplies and $50 for travel. Your base, of course, is $600. Charge $1000 and this will cover most of these simple DUIs and you'll turn a nice profit. You'll also be able to eat some extras if, say, the case takes longer than expected or travel is more remote than it normally is. You could probably also eat overhead increases for a few years with this rate. Just as importantly, it's one bill with nothing to think about. Like for home construction, half upfront and half at the end and you're golden. Change the upfront versus end payment proportions for good and bad payers and you've got yourself a system.

Hourly billing generally stinks but you need it for more involved things. I'll be back re that.
djjd62
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Mar, 2009 02:24 pm
@OCCOM BILL,
well, i wanted to contribute, and that's pretty much all i know about legal matters
0 Replies
 
OCCOM BILL
 
  1  
Reply Thu 5 Mar, 2009 02:42 pm
@jespah,
That doesn't sound like good news at all... I LOVE the idea of a 56 hour billing day! Though, I'll be plenty satisfied with the truth. He's not in Trial all day, most days, and when he's making/taking calls between a Status in one court and a sentencing hearing in another; he is supposed to be billing every one of those calls. I'm toying with the idea of having Verizon send me a delimited version of his phone activity and at least applying the 1/10th rule to all calls lasting over 1 minute. (I wonder what percentage of calls are to/from numbers that can be easily associated with files.)
 

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