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D.C. Bar Practice Management Advisors Win Third Gambrell Award for Managing Money Program

July 13, 2023

By John Murph

Dan Mills and Kaitlin McGee

The D.C. Bar Practice Management Advisory Service (PMAS) has been selected for the 2023 E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award for its Managing Money program, which teaches attorneys and their staff how to onboard a new client, create an appropriate fee agreement and earning mechanism, and manage advance fees and expenses, among other topics. Awarded by the ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism, the honor goes to three recipients and is accompanied by a cash prize of $3,500.

Launched in 2021, Managing Money is a free program offered by PMAS on a quarterly basis and draws approximately 40 attendees each year. Alternatively, law firms, business organizations, and nonprofits can request private sessions.

In selecting the program for this year’s Gambrell Award, the ABA Standing Committee on Professionalism commended the PMAS for implementing “an innovative and effective program well worthy of emulation throughout the nation.” The committee said the course stood out “for its deep commitment to teaching lawyers and their affiliated legal staff how to take a prospective client into the correct fee agreement, negotiate the financial terms and conditions, and then onboard the new client into the firm’s financial management system with a mind toward ethical financial practices and client protection.”

D.C. Bar practice management advisor Dan Mills said it’s an honor to receive the award. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback about [the program] from members who attend on a regular basis,” Mills said. “But it’s nice that the ABA recognized the program.”

Fellow practice management advisor Kaitlin McGee said that many lawyers who have signed up for the Bar’s full course on money management didn’t know the program existed. “So, it’s always nice to get the word out about the program, but my hope is that with this award even more lawyers will hear about [it] and say, ‘That might be something that I could benefit from. Let me sign up,’” McGee said.

Managing Money focuses on the earning mechanism in seven distinct types of engagements: the agreement for initial consultation, advance flat fee representation for a client charged with a felony criminal offense, advance flat fee representation for an immigration client, advance hourly fee representation for a civil litigation client, advance flat fee representation for an estate planning client, contingency fee representation for an injury case, and availability representation (classic engagement retainer).

“It’s a unique program,” Mills said. “It essentially combines a CLE that we do regularly on fee agreements and another program that we do involving trust accounts. The Managing Money program takes the essence of those two programs and puts them together.”

Mills said that when attorneys graduate from law school, it’s often presumed that they know how to manage business money. “The dirty little secret is [that] most of the time, they don’t,” he said. “It might be touched on in various law school curriculums in kind of an abstract way. But the nitty gritty of managing money, a lot of lawyers just don’t understand it all, especially if they’ve been working in a big firm and somebody else was doing the money managing. We’ve seen some brilliant lawyers do some really bizarre things when they start their own firms and start handling money.”

This is the third time that the PMAS team is receiving the Gambrell Award. In 2011 it won the award for its Basic Training & Beyond program, and again in 2015 for its Successful Small Firm Practice course.

The 2023 Gambrell Award will be presented at the ABA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, on August 4.

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