As the year draws to an end, we all often look to improve both ourselves and our businesses in the form of New Year’s Resolutions. Joining a gym, cutting daily expenses or increasing marketing efforts are all naturally put off until the New Year. Just like it is easier to eat one less holiday treat now to prepare for a new weight loss plan, I ask that you and your firm take a look at how to best prepare for the new.
Get Caught up on Bookkeeping
The only way to make good financial and tax planning decisions is to know where things stand. Work with your accountant to get your books up-to-date. Make sure all time has been billed out or written off. If any of your clients are more than 60 or 90 days past due, ask them to get current before the end of the year. You should have a pretty good idea of how well your company did and where you can improve.
Plan for Upgrades
The end of the year is a great time to budget for infrastructure upgrades, especially if you have a larger-than-expected profits. Get a timeline from your Managed Service Provider for replacing or upgrading your equipment or software. Keep in mind that your support plan with Microsoft may vary and you should have your IT provider review all available options. Be sure to check compatibility of new systems with your operating systems. Sometimes, new software is released without support from Office or Windows.
Stay Ahead of Tax Changes
If your firm is considering making an equipment or software purchase we encourage you to look into how Section 179 of the IRS tax code can affect your total purchase price if you were to wait until after the new year. You can read more about it on the IRS website.
Revisit Your Pricing
When is the last time you took a hard look at your pricing model? Do you need to increase your rates to cover your expenses? More and more firms are offering fixed-fee rates which also need to be reviewed annually. Is this something you should consider offering? If your office’s timekeepers have an increased rate for this year, make sure to update your case management system so beginning in January time entries reflects the new rate. Be sure to take time and analyze whether your firm is covering costs and remaining competitive.
Conduct a Cybersecurity Review
I recommend firms implement office-wide monitoring of security on all firm members’ devices and evaluate their needs annually. Especially this time of year as new tablets or smartphones are gifted, leaving firms terribly vulnerable. As users begin adding case, financial or office email information into these devices, firms are liable to protect their client’s data. Password enforcement, encryption, lost or stolen device procedures along with virus protection are all necessary steps to defend your firm. Along with a security audit, we recommend an annual penetration test and monthly vulnerability scanning, at a minimum.
Take Advantage of Downtime
Take advantage of court closings and out-of-town clients by engaging firm members in proactive end of the year tasks. Use downtime for administrative tasks such as scanning or boxing up any closed cases remaining in the office. Starting the year off with a clean slate (and a clean desk) will allow firm members to focus on court dates or generating pleadings when the schedule begins to pick up in January. We recommend the Fujitsu ScanSnap scanners to clients and have seen increased efficiencies in offices that begin using desktop models.
Training courses are another element that firm members should participate in during down-time. With the great amount of recorded training material available on the internet-this can be done around a person’s schedule while improving the firm’s knowledge of their software.
December 31st is nearing so make sure your minimum CLE credits have been accredited for the year. Register in advance and plan the next few weeks guaranteeing you’ll meet your CLE requirements. The American Bar Association’s page has great tools for scheduling and registration for upcoming free CLE events.
Have a Happy New Year
Enjoy the holiday season…just make sure you take down the office’s Festivus Pole.