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Ad Astra Law Group is a San Francisco-based law firm focused mainly on business litigation. The firm was founded with the goal to counsel clients through difficult situations and achieve great results. Offering flexible payment options is just one way Ad Astra makes it easier for clients to face challenging circumstances.
For Katy Young of Ad Astra Law Group, practicing law sometimes makes her feel like she’s on an exciting adventure—charting unknown seas together with her team and navigating her clients through storms. Other times, she feels like Atlas carrying the weight of the world.
Either way, at the end of the day, she needs to get paid. And, for someone representing clients in contentious business litigation suits, that’s often easier said than done.
“Most of our clients are small- to medium-size businesses, some individuals, and almost all of them are self-paying. There is no insurance company picking up the bill,” Katy says. “Anyone who is a client of ours … is probably going through one of the worst, and most expensive, experiences they’ve ever had.”
Here’s how Katy uses Clio to accept credit cards, put clients on payment plans, and be extra clear with bills and finances to keep everyone on the same page—so that she can help clients that need it most and keep her firm profitable.
Katy and her partners founded their firm with clear values: They wanted to keep expenses down, be more responsive to their clients, and be more nimble in reacting to the constantly changing legal landscape.
At her previous firm, Katy used Rocket Matter, and her partner, David, used Clio. When it came time to merge their practices, the partners chose to run their new firm on Clio for a number of reasons.
“It was easier for me to take my files from Rocket Matter and bring them to Clio than the other way around,” Katy said, explaining that the reverse scenario would have required a lot more support. “The user interface on Clio is also a lot more professional looking, which I like.”
Now that she’s been using Clio for several years, she’s found even more to love—namely, the ability to work from anywhere and more efficiently enter her time.
“One thing I love about having a cloud-based system is that, whether I’m at home on my laptop or here in the office, I always have a tab open with Clio in it, and it’s become second nature that I’m able to more efficiently bill for my time,” she says. “I never have to go back and enter time. It’s always right there.”
Using Clio’s cloud-based platform, Katy also works from home twice a week to save time commuting and be more productive.
“I have two little kids. I have a three-and-a-half-year-old and a six-month-old,” she explains. “On the days that I work from home, instead of the hours I spend commuting, I’m able to do the dishes, laundry and vacuum, and maybe even throw something in the Crock-Pot for dinner. And that’s the way that I can competently mother and lawyer, that I can be there for both sets of people that depend on me.”
Billing is a critical task for any law firm, but it’s especially important for Katy, since bills are a key communication tool. Using Clio, Katy creates the detailed bills she needs, and expedites her billing process.
In the past, Katy remembers that lawyers would send their time records to an assistant, who would then enter it into their billing software, create a ‘pre-bill,’ and send for multiple rounds of reviews. “It was the most inefficient process,” she says.
“Now, I just enter my time directly into Clio, so it’s easy for me to run bills,” Katy explains, noting that it’s easy to correct time entries herself.
In addition to being faster, legal billing with Clio also makes it easier for Katy to show clients what they’re paying for—an important feature when she’s trying to demonstrate the value of her services, especially when she’s performing them for free.
“I like being able to go in and apply discounts, change the hourly rate for something, and not bill for certain things,” Katy says. “I might write ‘review 15 emails from client expressing frustration about litigation process, 0.3 hours, no charge.’ I’m trying to express some human compassion through that time entry right there. That’s the difference between us and a larger law firm that might bill for everything they do.”
Additionally, Katy explains that being extremely clear with her bills makes clients more likely to pay. “Each billing entry should be telling part of a story about what we’re doing to help the client,” she says. “People are motivated to pay when they can see that what we’ve done is super-accurate and we’re not milking them.”
With Clio, it’s easy to see client records and explain bills and payments to clients when they have an issue.
What’s so fabulous about Clio is, when I’m talking to clients who have complaints about the cost of litigation, I am able to see all this stuff very clearly and easily. I don’t need to be talking to the bookkeeper. All the information is in there. We use Clio as the one source of truth versus all other software that we use.
And if a client notices an error on a bill? “Using Clio, it takes me two minutes to go back in, change the item that they are complaining about, send the bill back, and get it paid within the hour. No problem.”
In fact, some of Katy’s clients like her bills so much, they say she’s changed they way they will bill their clients. “They say, ‘I’m very impressed with your billing technique. It’s all listed out very nicely. It looks very professional. You’re changing the way that I am going to bill my clients for the work that I do.’ What a compliment!”
For many of Katy’s clients, getting legal help can mean a five-figure bill—and many of them can’t pay that sum in one shot.
There is no safety net for legal services for the middle class. They don’t qualify for legal aid. There are no free civil lawyers. So, what do you do if your biggest asset is your home and you need to file a lawsuit against your neighbor over the property line? You have to deal with it yourself.
Katy is able to help by accepting credit cards and offering to put clients on payment plans, which makes paying for legal services more manageable.
For some extremely worthy cases, we are able to say, ‘Okay, well if you can just do $3,000 a month until it’s paid off, we’ll go ahead and do the $20,000 worth of work this month that you can’t afford but we absolutely have to do.’ That way you can still get it done. We’re still able to keep up our professional obligations. Otherwise, we’d have to withdraw.
Sometimes, running a business this way can make it difficult to keep cash flows consistent, but Katy believes there’s no such thing as lost kindness—her model is actually a big positive for her long-term business growth.
“For every client that needs a break, if we’re able to resolve something for them, we make them a lifelong fan of ours,” she says. “Those are the people that are going to tell everyone they know about us. And the next time there is someone in their life that has a legal problem, they will come to me.”
The type of long-term networking that’s required for sustainable business development and a successful firm can take a lot of energy, so for Katy, it makes sense to build a strong reputation based on how she chooses to help people.
“It is a long-term thing. Running a business like this, we are a public service,” she says. “We are servants of the court. It is our job to help people.”