Cut Your Law Practice Costs in 10 Simple Steps
Cost-Saving Tip #1: Consolidate Cell Phone Plans for Your Employees
Consolidate cell and iPhone and Droid services of your staff into one plan to achieve some savings. Group cell plans will be cheaper than a bunch of individual plans.
Cost Saving Tip #2: Stop Buying Books for Your Library
Reevaluate your library needs. Cut down on things you order, like treatises and practice books and things you have in hard copy that can be accessed online.
Cost Saving Tip #3: Do Your Own Typing
Have everyone do their own pleadings and typing. Cut down on dictation and free up secretaries to do other things.
Cost Saving Tip #4: Adjust your Staff-to-Lawyer Ratio
Take a look at your staff-to-lawyer ratio as well as your lawyer-to-client ratio and keep things in balance with the needs of your clients.
Cost Saving Tip #5: Agree to Arbitrate your Smaller Value Cases
Be more amenable to high-low arbitration as a way of avoiding the high costs of trial. Push arbitration for cases, especially motor vehicle and premises liability cases, which have a value of less than $200,000. This will limit your expenses and result in quicker resolutions of your cases.
Cost Saving Tip #6: Be Selective with Medical Records
In personal injury cases become more selective in what medical records you order. Rather than ordering every medical record that exists, or ordering the medical records from every doctor the client has seen, you should look at how relevant or significant each doctor is and decide on a doctor-by-doctor basis.
Try not to order the medical records until you know you need them. You probably won’t need the medical invoices or a complete set of all of your client’s medical records until you decide that you’ll accept the case and file a lawsuit.
Your initial letter to the hospital or doctor should be limited to the medical records that are relevant to your case. If you have a new case involving a botched operation, your request to the hospital should be limited to a specific date of treatment and a limited set of the medical records. Your letter to the hospital should read, “I only want the operative report, discharge summary and progress notes for the hospital admission on July 1, 2014.”
A limited set of medical records are all you need to evaluate the new case and will cost you about $20. If you ask for a complete set of hospital records for all dates of treatment, you can get stuck with an invoice for $300-$500. Why waste your hard-earned money on medical records you don’t need?
In your letter to the hospital or doctor, you should always include a statement in bold print that the hospital should call you to authorize the expense if the photocopying of the medical records exceeds $50.
Cost Saving Tip #7: Subpoena Medical Records to Avoid the Photocopy Fee
The cost of medical records has gone through the roof, so try to subpoena them as often as possible. There’s a huge discrepancy in the price. You can get the medical records for $20 to $30 with a subpoena.
Subpoena the medical records, and any other records you need, before filing the note of issue. The documents you will need consist of the following: (a) Statement of Service by Mail (in duplicate) together with the Acknowledgment of Receipt by Mail of Subpoena Dukes Tetum; (b) Judicial Subpoena Dukes Tecum requiring the production of the records at your office; (c) HIPAA-compliant release authorization; and (d) Certification of records.
If you serve these documents with the appropriate witness fee, you will get the medical records for the cost of the subpoena fee. The hospital or doctor cannot request the 75 cents per page photocopy fee and in fact, it is uncommon that such a request will be made when you follow this procedure.
If you follow this procedure, there will be no need to subpoena the medical records (or any records for that matter) for the trial. CPLR section 3122-a provides the basis for the admission into evidence of business records without the production of a witness at trial. This saves the cost and time of issuing trial subpoenas and even better, you save the cost of paying for medical records, which sometimes cost more than $500 for lengthy hospitalizations. CPLR section 3122-a is a huge benefit for plaintiffs’ lawyers, but few use it.
Pursuant to section 18 of New York’s Public Health Law, you can conduct an “original chart review” of the medical records and no fee can be charged by the doctor or hospital. You can bring a portable, laser scanner to the original chart review and scan the original records in color. Then, you can send the electronic medical records to your experts with an email or a document sharing website such as Dropbox.com. Voila! You just completely eliminated the cost of the photocopy fee charged by the hospital or doctor.
Cost Saving Tip #8: Serve Discovery Responses in an Electronic Format
When medical records have to be served upon opposing counsel, or for a medical expert, you simply burn the electronic records to a CD and send the CD. The electronic documents can also be emailed. The recipient can then review the records on their computer or print them out. You can save money by sending medical records in an electronic format to opposing counsel and expert witnesses and this will save the time of your staff, and reduce the paper, toner and copier expenses.
You can serve a discovery response with the compact disc attached to your response stating: “Served herewith are the plaintiff’s complete medical and employment records in digital form on the attached compact disc.” You can serve a complete set of medical records (often hundreds of pages) upon multiple defense lawyers without making a single photocopy!
Likewise, when you need to send a complete set of the file materials to expert witnesses, you can simply burn the electronic records onto a compact disc and mail the CD to the experts. Little practice tip: I Bates stamp the medical records (i.e., electronically stamp the medical records with a number in the lower right corner of each page) so when I discuss the records with the expert, it is easy and quick to identify the specific page that is relevant to our conversation.
There is no statute or uniform rule that requires the service of paper copies of discovery responses. It is perfectly acceptable to serve the voluminous discovery responses in a digital format on a compact disc. If the defense lawyer objects, you should ask them to cite the statute or rule that requires that you serve a paper copy of your discovery responses—this will end the debate since there is no such rule.
Cost Saving Tip #9: Serve Pleadings and Subpoenas by Mail
Try experimenting with CPLR section 312-a to serve summons and complaints and subpoenas by mail! CPLR section 312-a allows service by first class mail. A copy of the summons and complaint (or subpoena), together with two copies of a Statement of Service by Mail and “Acknowledgment of Receipt” (in the form set forth in the statute) must be mailed by first class mail, together with a return envelope, postage prepaid, addressed to the sender.
The defendant, or an authorized employee of the defendant, or the defendant’s attorney, must complete and mail back a copy of the “Acknowledgment or Receipt” within 30 days of receiving the letter. Service is complete on the day that the “Acknowledgment of Receipt” is mailed and the defendant must serve an answer within 20 days of that date.
If the Acknowledgment of Receipt is not returned within 30 days, the plaintiff can serve the defendant using any other permitted method (i.e., using a process server) and the cost of the service has to be paid by the defendant.
Mailing pleadings by mail can save you, and ultimately your clients, hundreds of dollars in every case.
Cost Saving Tip #10: Get Your Expert Witnesses to Agree to a Budget
You have to get expert witnesses to agree to a budget from “day one” that you hire them. If you don’t establish a budget IN WRITING and get the expert to agree to limit his fees within the budget, you risk getting taken to the bank by huge invoices from your experts.
When the expert agrees to work on the case, most lawyers send a retainer check with no budget in place. This is a recipe for disaster! With no limits or caps on the expert’s fee, the expert will have carte blanche to take advantage of you and your client and there’s a good chance he will do just that.
So here’s what you should do. When you first hire the expert, you set a budget for the expert’s fees. First, ask the expert how many hours the initial case review will take and what the anticipated fee will be. You should ask the expert to sign a letter agreeing to the budget for the initial case review and notifying him that he must get your approval if he needs to exceed the budget. Even after the initial case review, you should make sure the expert is aware that he must get your permission before charging more than $2,000 for an invoice.
I have never had an expert refuse to work within a budget. And if your expert won’t agree to work within a budget that you set for him, you shouldn’t work with the expert anyway. Expert witnesses must respect your budget constraints.
What is Your #1 Cost Saving Tip for Lawyers?
Do you have a cost-saving tip for lawyers? I want to hear from you—that’s right, tell me I’m wrong or maybe you have ways to improve my cost-saving tips. Take a second or two to leave a comment so we all benefit from your knowledge.