Take Charge is a special event. It’s Georgia’s Solo and Small Firm Institute and it is scheduled for July 14 & 15 at the State Bar Headquarters. You can see the agenda, register at the early bird rate, and more at the official conference website, www.gabarsolo.org.
Stay tuned for conference updates!
– Natalie & Bill
Well, I wasn’t in attendance this year, as I was out on a leave of absence. Bummer! But, if what I have heard since my return to work is any indication of what the attendees at this year’s Solo and Small Firm Institute enjoyed, this was a successful solo and small firm conference! Because pictures can speak louder than words, here’s what you missed if you didn’t attend this year.
From the bustling Exhibit Hall area to the sometimes standing-room only sessions, attendees are still talking to me about this year’s conference and telling me they are looking forward to attending next year. You can also check out the conference as it was featured in the Daily Report, here.
With help from the General Practice and Trial Section and other key sponsors, the Law Practice Management Program and the event’s Chair, Kathleen Womack, were able to showcase presentations from national experts – Sharon Nelson, John Simek and James “Jim” Calloway; and our very own high-profile local experts on all things solo and small firm practice! You can see all of the sessions presented and wonderful presenters listed here. Thanks everyone for all of your dedication and hard work!
We can’t wait for you to join us next year! Save the date. July 14th & 15th, 2017!
By accepting credit cards, your firm is considered a “merchant” under the Housing Assistance Tax Act of 2008. Guidelines from this Act in effect as of January 1, 2013, requires all merchants to have an EXACT match for their federal tax identification number (FTIN) and their legal name on file with the IRS. You might have already been contacted by your credit card processing company to verify this information matches, and if you have ensured the names match you do not have to do anything further. However, if you have not received this notice or have forgotten to ensure your names match EXACTLY, please do so immediately. There can be a withholding penalty of 28% for all credit card transactions where these names do not match. Please note that the withholding penalty may come from credit card transactions that are to go into either your business account or trust account, and could potentially create a serious ethical concern for your practice. So, again, please check your names today!
Natalie & Tina
Getting ready for a new year can be daunting for many law firms. This is especially true for those that are unorganzied or think they are too busy to get organized. Here are 3 tips to help get your firm up, moving and shaking before the new year starts.
1) Enter your billing and accounting information for the year! With tax season just around the corner, you need to make sure you’ve sent out your final billing, recorded all payments, closed your accounting months through at least November, and planned to finish your account reconciliations before the end of the first week of 2013. Of course, this may mean you’ll have to reach out to your Accountant for last-minute help with bookkeeping tasks you are not able to manage or to get advice on how to take advantage of some additional tax breaks before December comes to a close.
2) Clean off your desk! Even if you are busy, start (or end) each day for the rest of December with a 10 minute desk review. This may mean creating a reading file for things that you want to get to but don’t have time right now, or simply putting files back where they belong in your office. We are huge fans of centralized file storage, so if you are in a firm you won’t be keeping a physical file that others may be looking for, and you are clearing your desk of files you are not actively (right now) working on. This cleaning might even inspire you to think of going paperless in the new yeare! (Practice Note: You can contact the State Bar’s Law Practice Management Program and/or Ethics Hotline for more detailed information on file retention.)
3) Go shopping! Who would think you’d hear anyone advising you to go shopping? What does this have to do with getting organized? Well, the exercise of you making lists or just mentally checking for item you need or want can help create some momentum in your practice that can carry over all the way into the new year. Shopping therapy can arguably be as good for firms as it can be for individuals. At any rate, planning to shop forces you to assess the physical needs or your practice, but also forces you to reflect on areas in your practice that may need changing, too. Dont’ have any idea where to begin in thinking about shopping? Even though you’ve missed some of the sales already, it’s never too late to check out the annual lawyer shopping list from Reid Trautz at his blog, ReidMyBlog, to get started! See his 8th Annual Holiday Gift Guide for Lawyers at http://reidtrautz.typepad.com/.
Happy Holidays and Organizing!!!!
Natalie & Tina
What? Who’s giving out bonuses in this down economy? Despite the economic climate that has affected pretty much every law office in the country, bonuses are still being given out. Sounds a little odd, but in fact, bonuses can be great firm marketing and retention tools, and there are several ways to structure them so that they become a win-win proposition for the awarder and the recipient. Be sure that you are not fee-splitting when doing so, and only reward based on overall firm revenue amounts. (See further explanation from the Office of General Counsel below.)
Associate bonuses can enhance the offer you make to new associates and might even give some wiggle room in terms of starting salaries. You can deliver bonuses based on production (hours worked, billed and collected); origination (bringing in new business to the firm); and even general work (hours worked beyond the general amount for certain matters.) Percentage bonuses are easily calculated when using a good tracking system and having procedures that force consistent time entry, regular billing, and current financial reporting.
Another general consideration with paying bonuses is to watch the timing. For instance, traditional firms would give out bonuses at year’s end near holiday periods. If you are on top of your office’s cash flow though, consider staggering the bonus over certain periods whether they come during holiday periods or not. It’s always nice to have not only an extra day off to celebrate a holiday, but to have a little extra cash during this time might also be a great perk! For retention purposes, think about calculating bonuses over a certain period, but rewarding them later or over staggered periods.
Set thresholds for production or realization before rewarding bonuses. Only after a staff person has worked X number of hours (don’t forget to pay overtime where required), and shown X type of work behavior (think merit increase) should you reward with a bonus.
From the Office of General Counsel
Rule 5.4 of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct generally prohibits lawyers from sharing fees with nonlawyers. However, Rule 5.4(a)(3) provides that a lawyer or law firm may include nonlawyer employees in a compensation or retirement plan, even though the plan is based in whole or in part on a profit-sharing arrangement. Formal Advisory Opinion 05-4 explains that Rule 5.4(a)(3) allows a lawyer to pay a monthly bonus to nonlawyer employees, in addition to their regular monthly salary, if the bonus is based on the gross receipts of the law office. The same reasoning would apply to an annual bonus. However, such bonuses should not be based on income from a specific matter standing alone.
Natalie & Tina
Beginning August 16th, the Law Practice Management Program will begin sponsoring seasonal CLE programs geared toward the latest topics on practice management, ethics, technology and finance for solo and small firm practitioners. The 1st Summer program will highlight these general topics.
Ultimately, if you are in solo or small firm practice, you recognize the many important practice and business hats you are required wear; and if you don’t, these programs are designed to help you learn what you need to be paying attention to and doing in your office, and how to better manage in your specific practice setting.
If you have some war stories or practice knowledge you’d like to share, let us know. In fact, the organizers – made up of key leaders from solo and small firm entities within local and specialty Bar groups – are looking for tailored content for future programs, and you can be a part of this at any time of the year.
The program agenda for the Summer session is online at ICLE’s website at http://iclega.org/programs/8022.html.
Hope to see you there!
Georgia lawyers have not been exempt from the rash of online and even in-person scams that have become prevalent here in the United States. Here’s an example:
My name is Liudmila Yuldasheva. I’m contacting your firm in regards to a divorce settlement with my ex-husband (Bernheim de Yuldasheva) who resides in your jurisdiction. I am currently on treatment in Belgium; we had an out of court, Agreement (Collaborative Law Agreement) for him to pay $468,450.59 plus legal fees, He has only paid me $44,500.00.
I am hereby seeking your firm to assist in collecting the balance from him. He has agreed already to pay me the balance but It is my belief that a Law firm like yours will be of assistance in collecting payment from my ex-husband or litigate if he fails to pay as promised.
There are many variations on the theme, but the “client” is usually from another country, the factual scenario may seem plausible, the representation is for collection, and the “client” offers to send a sizeable check, for retainer or expenses or both. The check does actually arrive and may appear legitimate enough for your bank to accept for deposit. The check will bounce within a few days. If the client has instructed you to send some of the funds elsewhere, and you do so, you will be compromising other clients’ funds in your trust account.
Note that you are likely to learn of new variations every week! You don’t want to be tricked out of your money, or even worse, your client’s money, so here are some guidelines to keep you safe from these types of scams.
- Stay vigilant – Know who your clients are (as best you can); do the necessary background checking and even double-check if there is no reasonable way for you to have a face-to-face meeting or online video conference with new potential clients offering you the deal of a case.
- Shore up your accounting procedures – Make sure you have the means and actually track all of the activity with all of your accounts. You should be able to track everything going into the accounts and everything coming out of your accounts. Be careful with deposits over 3-day holiday weekends and times when banks are not likely to address your transactions for a few days.
- Know your folks – Do background checks and get references for all new hires. Plan accordingly so that those in trusted positions have had ample opportunity to show you that they can be trusted. Until such time, always keep a close watch over your affairs, and to deter an possible concerns, let them know you are watching, too.
- Don’t deposit certified funds unless you know they’ve been certified – This is a tricky one, but not catching a forgery can cause some serious issues for monies put into the trust account. Keep on your toes and do your best to make sure the check is good. Unfortunately, the scammers realize that many lawyers overlook this important part of the accounting process (verifying funds for instruments that “seem” legit).
- Do not make any disbursement from proceeds received from or on behalf of a client until you have absolute assurance from the bank that the check has cleared. The fact that a deposit has been credited to your account does not mean that the funds are there.
- Recognize that a sizeable fee for very little work is a red flag. For example, a fee of five percent of a sum for simply making a deposit and writing a check should alert you that something is amiss.
- Be prepared if you fall for a scam – Have a notification plan in place along with a checklist of who you need to contact in the event you are the victim of a scam. Realizing that you have been “tricked” can sometimes lead to your doing all you can to avoid the embarrassment.
You can keep up with the scam activity directed at lawyers and get a copy of a “Fraud Fact Sheet” from our friend and colleague, Dan Pinnington with LawPro in Toronto, at www.avoidaclaim.com.
You should also be aware that in response to Congressional concerns about the use of lawyers’ trust accounts to facilitate money-laundering efforts by international criminals, the ABA has developed the Voluntary Good Practices Guidance for Lawyers to Detect and Combat Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing. You can find the Good Practices Guidance at http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publishing/criminal_justice_section_newsletter/crimjust_taskforce_gtfgoodpracticesguidance.authcheckdam.pdf
Natalie & Tina