Once upon a time my lawyer sent me a billing statement I didn’t understand. The only part that wasn’t vague was the amount I owed.
If this is how clients feel about your bill, you’ve got a problem.
Billing statements should be complete, detailed, and accurate. Here are some dos and don’ts to consider:
- Make the math easy to follow. If you offer early payment discounts, calculate the discount for the client. If the client is required to replenish a retainer account, show how you arrived at the replenishment number.
- Be clear about due dates and the applicability of late charges or interest.
- Spend client money carefully. As one writer put it, why are you FedExing correspondence to your expert when trial is six months away? The same can be said of failing to delegate work when it could have been performed just as competently for less money.
- Put your billing practices into an easy-to-read client pamphlet. It can be on your website, in a brochure, or on a one-page sheet included with your fee agreement.
- Proofread your bills. Mistakes drive clients crazy and cause them to question your invoice and the quality of your legal work.
- Follow the additional tips below.
- Don’t bill the client for anything that isn’t included in your (written) fee agreement.
- Don’t pad your bill.
- Don’t nickel and dime clients by billing for everyday scanning, copying, faxing, or postage. Allow for reimbursement of extraordinary expenditures by including an exception in your fee agreement, then bill accordingly.
- Don’t raise client hackles by charging for clerical work.
What to include in your billing descriptions
- For each billing activity include the person doing the work, the applicable rate, and the date of the activity.
- Spell out acronyms and abbreviations like UTCR or ORCP.
- Make your bill easier to read by ditching as much of the legalese as possible.
- Use dynamic, results-oriented verbs to describe your work: attend, investigate, evaluate, assess, formulate. A thesaurus is your best friend.
- Write in the present tense.
- Always include the who, what and why:
To whom did you write the email or make the call? Describe the role of the person involved – clerk of the court, opposing counsel – and include the name if it is meaningful to the client.
“Review documents” is vague. Give detail! What exactly did you review? Discovery produced by the other side in response to a request for production? Say so.
Explain why you took the time to perform the task. Is the trial date around the corner? Are you reviewing documents to respond to a discovery request? Give the specific reason for organizing, reviewing or preparing. This is your opportunity to tell the client that you did something worth “x” dollars and expect to be paid.
Learn more about billing practices, collections, and how to talk to clients about money at “Getting Paid,” an online CLE event scheduled for Wednesday, October 2, 2019 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. 1.25 OSB MCLE Practical Skills credits approved. Designed for lawyers, legal staff, and office administrators – anyone interested in improving billing and collection practices. Details available here. Registration open now!
All Rights Reserved 2019 Beverly Michaelis