Legal Solutions | USA
Making informed choices about the clients and case types you engage with
For the majority of your clients, time is of the essence when their cases are pending; of course, when representation has been completed, and the piper is to be paid, clients typically have a less urgent sense of time. In addition to this general complication (getting a client to pay you, when you have nothing more to offer them), certain hurdles respecting billing and collection are endemic to most law firms. There are clients who experience financial difficulties, and can’t pay their bills. There are clients who object to unclear, or unconvincing, bills. There are clients who resent the billing process, and take their time to make good on stale invoices. These scenarios represent three reasons why law firm billing becomes past due.
Fortunately, there are solutions available for resolving each of those issues, for moving your law practice into a space in which you are regularly paid on time.
If your law firm continuously engages clients who are unable to pay you, that problem is most likely rooted in client selection. What lawyers often conveniently forget is the free choice attached to each attorney-client relationship: for every client a law firm engages, the same law firm had a chance to reject that engagement at the outset. Law firms that make the decision to vet and take on good clients are paid at higher percentages than those law firms that take on every opportunity that walks in the door. If you want to test whether a client will pay you in the future, ask them to pay you in advance. Charging reasonable retainers will weed out those clients who say they will pay you, but really can’t. A type of retainer called an “evergreen retainer,” where it is the client’s responsibility to reset the retainer back to a settled amount at predetermined intervals, allows you to test your client’s continuing commitment to pay you over time. Extend a retainer; if it’s not met, don’t extend a fee agreement.
If your law firm is subject to consistent disagreement over submitted invoices, those invoices are probably poorly constructed.
A final thought: reporting. Even if attorneys rarely seek performance metrics to affirm their strategic decisions, modern practice management tools make performance data available. A practice management system that features reporting tools within its legal time and billing module is necessary for law firms that want to make informed choices about the clients and case types they engage, about the effectiveness of their billing procedures, and for streamlining collections.