Client Bills Should Tell a Story

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:

Billing dos

  • 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.

Billing don’ts

  • 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:

Who

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. 

What

“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.

Why

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

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 hereRegistration open now!

All Rights Reserved 2019 Beverly Michaelis

Getting Paid October 2, 2019 – CLE Event

Learn how to talk to clients about money, incentivize clients to pay, collect accounts receivable, and modernize billing and payment practices. Join me on Wednesday, October 2 for “Getting Paid.” 1.25 OSB MCLE Practical Skills credits approved. Designed for lawyers, legal staff, and office administrators – anyone interested in  improving billing and collection practices.

Topics include

  • Identifying your fee strategy
  • Ensuring the client is invested in the case
  • Documenting and reinforcing fee discussions
  • Exploring the advantages of automated billing systems
  • Using billing descriptions clients understand
  • Making it easy for clients to pay
  • Sourcing the latest options in credit card processing and click-to-pay invoicing
  • Unbundling services to meet marketplace demands
  • Offering hybrid fee agreements
  • Getting practical about collection

When & Where: Wednesday, October 2 2019 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. Pacific Time. This is a live, online webinar.

Group Discounts: Available to firms who wish to register 5 or more attendees. Contact me for more information.

Participate in Polling & Ask Questions: Questions are welcome during the live event. Attendees are also encouraged to participate in live, anonymous polling.

How to Register

Click herechoose the image above, or visit the Upcoming CLE page. Secure payment processing powered by Eventbrite. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted. Program materials included in the $25 registration price.

Can’t Attend?

Video and audio recordings will be available to download along with the program materials shortly after the live program event.  Price: $25. Contact me or visit my online CLE store to place an order.

Register Now!

All Rights Reserved 2019 Beverly Michaelis

 

Streamline, Organize, and Improve Your Office

Be more productive

What if you could improve workflows? Leverage technology and automation to save time? Overcome procrastination? You can with Practical Time Management. This CLE offers over 30 ideas and strategies to help you take control of your workload, manage your busy schedule, focus on your priorities, and make your workday more productive. Accredited by the Oregon State Bar and available in audio and video format here.

Harness best practices

Not sure whether your firm is applying best practices to key office operations? Learn about automating client intake, documenting representation, modernizing the engagement process, and more in Best Practices for Client Intake, Engagement & Workflow. Combine this program with Best Practices for Docketing, Conflicts, Disengagement & File Retention to cover your bases.

Watch each CLE over lunch and earn 1.0 General/Practical Skills MCLE credits. Available now at On Demand CLE..

Get jiggy with eCourt

Understand common eCourt mistakes and master electronic service with eCourt Malpractice Traps and Oregon eService. Topics include: relation back of filings, UTCR amendments, upgrades to Odyssey eFile & Serve software, 12 common eFiling errors, key eCourt resources, using eService, service of process in the eFiling world, identifying eService exceptions, service contact issues, service by email, and courthouse dos and don’ts.

Trust Accounting – basic and advanced

From managing bank charges and avoiding impermissible cushions to reporting overdrafts and addressing client fee disputes, Trust Accounting Fundamentals covers all the basics of how to properly operate your lawyer trust account.

Want to delve deeper into the ethics of IOLTA? Advanced Trust Accounting will show you how to safely manage wire and EFT transfers, use layaway payment plans, collect “first and last month’s rent,” manage evergreen retainers and hybrid fee agreements, receive third party payments, barter legal services, pass on credit card transaction fees, handle unclaimed funds, respond to garnishments and liens, disburse settlement proceeds if your client is missing, and more – believe it or not!

Lucky 13

You’ll find 13 programs and a free eBook at on demand CLE. If it concerns law office operations, you’ll likely find it covered here.

Details for the detail minded

Q:  What does my on demand CLE purchase include?
A:  MP4 (video file), M4a (audio file), written program materials with presentation slides and resources, answers to polling questions addressed during the live CLE, MCLE Form 6 for self-reporting of MCLE credits.

Q:  How are the video and audio files delivered?
A:  Digital files are delivered instantly at checkout with your purchase confirmation email (look for the link). Download, stream, save to your Dropbox account, or send files to your mobile device or desktop computer.

Q:  How much do CLEs cost?
A:  On demand CLE programs are $25. The eBook, Tips for Improving Client Relationships, is free.  All transactions are handled by Selz and protected with industry standard security, including encryption. The Selz platform is also PCI compliant. Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover accepted.

All Rights Reserved 2019 Beverly Michaelis

Proposed 2019 UTCRs

Comments are due by February 22, 2019 on the latest round of proposed changes to the UTCRs. These include:

New UTCRs

Proposed New UTCR 5.010 – Consumer Debt Collection Cases

Applies to cases filed by debt buyers and debt collectors acting on their behalf. Requires inclusion of identifying information in the action title, the body of the initiating pleading, and a completed Consumer Debt Collection Disclosure Statement (CDCDS). Directs the court to issue a 30-day notice of dismissal if the plaintiff fails to provide a CDCDS. When seeking a default, requires plaintiff to include a declaration under penalty of perjury that the plaintiff has complied with certain pleading requirements. Note: a sample CDCDS form will be made available by the OJD on its website. See proposed form on pages 70-73 of the Notice Seeking Public Comment on Proposed Uniform Trial Court Rules Changes for 2019.

Proposed New UTCR 11.110 – Exhibits in Juvenile Cases

Cedes power to local courts for creating a process to submit exhibits in juvenile cases. If electronic filing is permitted by SLR or order of the presiding judge, requires maintenance of an exhibit log, eFiling in conformance with UTCR 21.040, and a timeline for submission. Also see proposed amendments to UTCR 6.050, 6.120, 21.020, and 21.070; 11.120 (new).

Proposed New Chapter 24 – PCR Cases

Creates statewide rules for post-conviction relief (PCR) cases; replaces current SLRs on post-conviction relief. The proposed UTCRs would address case initiation; the defendant’s motion, demurrer, or answer; scheduling in complex cases with appointed counsel; exhibits; additional motions, briefings, and exhibits; disclosure of witnesses; appearance at hearings and trial; continuances; presiding post-conviction judge; and trial scheduling.

Repealed UTCRs

Repealed UTCR 2.010(7) – Certificate of Document Preparation

Removes the certificate of document preparation, which indicates whether a
litigant received assistance in completing the document and whether they paid
for that assistance.

Amended UTCRs

Amended UTCR 2.010(9) – Foreign Language Exhibits

Requires a person submitting a foreign language exhibit to simultaneously submit an English translation with a declaration signed by the translator. Forbids court interpreters from translating or interpreting exhibits during the course of a proceeding; allows interpreters to interpret oral testimony regarding the content of an exhibit.

Amended UTCR 2.010(13) – Format of Case Citations

Changes the format for case name citations from underlined to italicized to align trial court citations with the citation format used in the appellate courts.

Amended UTCR 5.150 – Streamlined Trials (Formerly Expedited)

Implements improvements to time to trial, pretrial conferences, written discovery agreements, limitations on discovery, deadline for completion of discovery, discovery disputes, trial stipulations, and the related forms.

Amended UTCR 8.010 – Declaration in lieu of Affidavit

Allows the use of a declaration as an alternative to notarized affidavits for filings in
certain family law proceedings. Also see proposed amendments to UTCR 8.040.

Amended UTCR 8.090 – Certificates Re Child Support Proceedings, Orders, or Judgments

Requires certificate to be placed at the end of the motion or petition, immediately above the declaration line; adds new information to certificate. A model form containing the required information is available on the OJD website.

Amended 10.020 – DMV Record

Requires the DMV to electronically file the record when a final order of suspension is appealed to a circuit court; would allow each circuit court to adopt its own SLR describing how and in what form the DMV record must be submitted. Also see proposed deletion of UTCR 21.070(3)(k) removing DMV records from the list of documents that must be conventionally filed.

Amended 21.070(3) – Conventional Filing of ERPO Petitions

Adds extreme risk protection order (ERPO) petitions, and supporting affidavits, to the list of documents that must be conventionally filed.

Amended 21.070(5) – Allowing Local Courts to Adopt SLR Requiring Separate Notice of Expedited Filings

Allows local courts to adopt an SLR requiring that filers separately notify the court that an expedited filing has been submitted.

Amended 23.020 – Complex Litigation Cases

Removes the requirement that parties to a case assigned to the Oregon Complex
Litigation Court (OCLC) must share the cost of copying and providing the trial
court file to the assigned OCLC judge, but allows the OCLC judge to direct the
parties to provide copies of documents, in a manner the judge specifies.

Commenting on the Proposed UTCRs

Comments can be submitted online, via email, or by traditional mail.

Online
Go to the Notice Seeking Public Comment on Proposed Uniform Trial Court Rules Changes for 2019 and click on the button next to the item of interest.

Email
utcr@ojd.state.or.us.

Traditional mail
UTCR Reporter
Supreme Court Building
1163 State Street
Salem, Oregon 97301-2563

To attend the spring meeting of the committee on March 8, 2019 contact the UTCR Reporter at utcr@ojd.state.or.us or Bruce C. Miller at 503-986-5500 to schedule a time for your appearance. Recommendations that are adopted by the Chief Justice will take effect August 1, 2019.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2019