Want to ensure your law firm gets paid—and paid on time? Try using an evergreen retainer.
What is an evergreen retainer and how can it help your law firm get paid on time?
With an evergreen retainer, your client pays you upfront and replenishes the amount once it hits a predetermined minimum balance. This way, you can ensure there are always enough funds for your client to pay your most recent invoice.
Why should your law firm use evergreen retainers?
The benefits of evergreen retainers are far-reaching—the following section explains how.
Increase your law firm’s cash flow
Who doesn’t hate getting stuck with overdue client invoices? Chasing down clients for payments is a waste of time and money. With funds available in trust, you don’t have to wait to get paid. Instead, you can use the funds in trust to pay your client invoices, which improves your cash flow and helps eliminate bad debt for your firm.
Improve your law firm’s collection rate
The 2017 Legal Trends Report found that using trust accounts positively affected collections for family law matters: Matters with associated trust accounts had an 85% collection rate, compared to 70% for those that didn’t. Evergreen retainers make it more affordable for more clients to pay via trust, potentially helping to improve collections.
Improve your law firm’s client experience
A clear evergreen retainer agreement and process can help set expectations for clients about what they’ll be billed for, and when. Evergreen retainers are also a more flexible payment method for clients, especially if they can’t pay a large amount in trust at the start of their case.
Streamline accounting at your law firm
With evergreen retainers, you can simplify the process of settling legal invoices—as the invoices are settled on schedule. With the right technology to support you, implementing evergreen retainers makes tracking trust accounting easier. Systems that notify you to request additional client funds when trust accounts dip below a certain threshold provide an extra guard against account overdraws.
Read on for everything you need to know about using evergreen retainers:
How to use evergreen retainers at your law firm
An evergreen retainer requires two key elements: clear client communication, and a solid process for tracking trust accounts and minimum balances.
1. Include an evergreen retainer clause in fee agreements
Your fee agreement, or retainer agreement, must communicate how the evergreen retainer will work using an evergreen retainer clause, which should specify:
- The minimum balance required in the client’s trust account.
- When the client must replenish funds, and by how much.
The minimum balance you agree upon may be the same across all cases, or it may be chosen on a case-by-case basis depending on the scope of work and what your client can afford.
You may also state that work on the case may cease if a client fails to honor the evergreen retainer clause. This can provide an extra guard against less-than-timely trust top-ups.
Evergreen retainer clause example
If you’re not sure where to start, consider these evergreen retainer examples from the Texas Bar Association and the Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company of Kentucky. Additionally, Interbill provides the following example:
Client agrees to an advance retainer deposit of $2500 paid with the execution of this agreement and further agrees to replenish the retainer with a $1500 payment when the retainer balance reaches or is less than $1000.
A note about the above—these examples are for illustration purposes. Be sure to adapt them to your specific situation and location.
2. Create a system for monitoring balances
It’s your job to let your clients know when their trust funds are at or below the minimum balance required—so make sure you have a system in place to track balances and notify clients when it’s time to top up funds.
Trust accounting software can be a big help here. For example, with Clio’s Evergreen Management feature suite, you and/or your staff can receive automated notifications when a client’s trust account drops below the minimum balance. From there, you can easily send a new Trust Request to the client.
For example, if you’re at a larger firm, you may want to set notifications to go to a legal assistant or your accounting team, with well-defined instructions to send a request for additional funds.
3. Keep invoices and requests for trust funds clear
Make sure clients get a copy of all invoices. You may be approving invoices and applying client trust funds to pay them. However, you also have a duty to tell your client what they’re being billed for.
Clarify the difference between invoices and requests for additional trust funds. This is especially important if an invoice totals more than the amount left in trust. In this case, the client needs to both pay the invoice and replenish their evergreen retainer.
When to use evergreen retainers
Evergreen retainers are useful when a client can’t pay—or would prefer not to pay—a larger single retainer upfront. For example, a client may balk at paying a $20,000 retainer upfront. But an evergreen retainer with a minimum trust balance of $4,000 might be more manageable. This way, your firm can keep its cash flow healthy without putting an extra strain on the client.
Using evergreen retainers for smoother practice management
Evergreen retainers can be a boon for your law firm’s finances. They can also make paying for legal services more affordable and predictable for your clients. With a clear agreement, explicit processes, and the right software systems, your law firm has lots to benefit from using evergreen retainers.
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