Legal Fee Collection: How to Make Your Clients Pay

Getting clients is easy–at least when compared to chasing down delinquent clients for payment. Not only can it be frustrating, it can also be time consuming. And with up to 40% of solo attorneys’ time already being spent on non-billable activities (including legal fee collection), it’s imperative that you make every effort to ensure your clients pay (at least by optimizing portions of the collections process you retain control over). In The Science of Collecting Feesour webinar with lawyer Ed Poll, we learned how attorneys can increase their chances of being paid before they’ve even sent an invoice.

Collection begins at intake

Lawyers can set themselves up for payment success (or failure) right from the get-go with most clients. Want to guarantee you get paid? Deliver high value to your client and do everything you can to manage their expectations (including being honest and forthright with them about what the law can and cannot do to aid in their situation). Determining what your client values can be tricky as mileage will vary from client to client. A good place to start is having this conversation with them.

Put it in writing

Written fee arrangements can go a long way towards clearing the air and avoiding confusion for your clients. Get over the discomfort that invariably comes with discussing money–sitting down and having a frank and honest discussion with your client about fees and ensuring that a record of the conversation exists will greatly reduce the likelihood of you ending up in a disciplinary hearing.

Bills make a difference

If you want to improve your chances of getting paid, skip the handwritten bills and make sure you’re presenting your clients with a professional, polished bill that includes matter information, who performed the work, the time spent on the task, amount charged, and, more importantly, when payment is expected per the terms of your fee arrangement. Make sure the information is laid out neatly and concisely, that the bill gives a clear idea of the value being provided, and that the bill makes your services sound meaningful and reasonably priced (even if they aren’t). When a bill is issued can make all the difference as well; attorneys can be somewhat loathe to issue bills on time if they feel that capturing the time and issuing the bills detracts from actually completing the legal work they were hired for. But getting your bills out on time can have a huge impact on whether they’re paid (particularly if your clients are on a beginning-of-month billing cycle, when they’re more flush with cash). If you find that actually generating the bills is consuming too much time, try using time tracking and legal billing software like Clio to track time contemporaneously and issue bills painlessly.

Stay out of it

Lawyer involvement in the collections process should be avoided at all costs–let’s be honest, you probably have better things to do, and it can weaken your relationship with the client. Whenever possible, have your staff manage the collections process with your oversight. Solo attorney? There are a number of services (such as Clio integration partners ZenCash and InvoiceSherpa) that can be set up to automate your accounts receivable follow-up and work seamlessly with your time tracking and billing software.

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