- March 18, 2013
- Phil Paisley
- 0 comment
Getting paid on time is one of the biggest problems for attorneys in private practice. More and more attorney are waking up to the fact that working for 50 clients only 15 of which pay, is financially unsustainable, unfair to clients who do pay and increases the cost of legal services.
Billing Steps to assure getting paid on time:
1. Clearly state your payment expectations in your Attorney Client Representation Agreement.
2. Offer payment plans to assure affordability and payment.
3. Consider requiring an incremental retainer.
4. Bill like clockwork at the beginning of each month for the prior month.
5. Make sure each bill looks like a bill: work done, the amount owed and a payment due date.
6. For monthly retainers make sure the bills shows the minimum retainer with the total amount due.
7. Send a payment due reminder the day after payment is past due.
8. List your receivables. Know how much you are suppose to collect.
Notes on Incremental Retainers
I believe that every small law office has the power to insist on incremental retainers any time payment is not guaranteed.
Incremental retainers are retainers paid as money is required or in fixed monthly installments. Most individuals and small businesses prefer paying a fixed monthly amount.
It is important for clients to retain legal services with upfront payments. These payments do not need to be large, they can be whatever the client can afford, but they must be paid on time.
My optimism about retainers is often met by skepticism on the part of our attorney customers. Howver, when I point out that if a client cannot pay $1,500 in advance, that client is probably not going to be able to pay $1,500 after the fact – most of our customers do agree.
Operating on the clients money has been a standard private law practice requirement. I believe it is important for clients to have “skin in the game”. Once a client has paid $1,500 he or she is more committed to he action or project and he or she is more likely to protect that deposit by continuing to make period deposits when requested.
But whether or not you require a deposit or payment after the work is done, billing and getting paid takes work and discipline. Just sending out a bill is not enough; all the steps I have listed above are important to getting paid.
Accommodating a clients income realities will not only help you establish a happy client who can pay, it will also bring you referrals.
You are never doing yourself or your client a favor by ignoring the fact that they are not paying. When a client cannot pay, he or she will invent reasons they did not pay and those reasons will never reflect well on your professional services.