Collecting Fees

With law firm revenues taking a hit from COVID-19, effective billing and collection procedures have never been more important. Follow the best practices outlined below to minimize hiccups.

Bill smarter

  • Review pre-bills carefully. Misspelled names and billing errors are irksome to clients.
  • Correct any mistakes that slip by quickly and accurately – the first time.
  • Issue statements before clients receive their paychecks – before the 15th and again at month end. If you serve corporate clients, send bills in a manner and format that works for the accounts payable department. When cash flow is challenging – for you or your client – weekly billing may be an option.
  • Always include a due date on statements. Most clients prioritize payment based on due date.
  • Offer incentives. In lieu of late fees or interest, offer clients a discount if payment is received within 10 days of the billing date.
  • Give clients the 411. Your bill should tell a story – the who, what, and why of the work performed.
  • Stick to your agreed upon billing interval. Monthly, quarterly, weekly – whatever it may be. Inconsistent billings disrupt firm cash flow, infuriate clients, and make collection more difficult.
  • Be flexible in how you accept payment – Venmo, Zelle, PayPal, ApplePay, credit card. Absorbing processing fees may not be fun but it’s better than not getting paid.

Head off problems

  1. Always take the time to discuss fees, costs, and billing procedures. Most nonpaying clients who file retaliation suits or malpractice counterclaims do so because they never understood what the lawyer’s services would cost.
  2. Never leave home without a written fee agreement. Be specific and complete. Your agreement should: (a) specify the scope and timing of services; (b) describe what the client is expected to pay for and when; (c) explain billing practices; (d) identify what will occur if payment is not timely made. Losing a potential client who refuses to negotiate and agree to a comprehensive fee and engagement agreement is a small price to pay compared to defending yourself in a malpractice claim or disciplinary proceeding.
  3. Consider alternative fee arrangements – flat fees, fixed fees, unbundled fees, evergreen retainers, or “last month’s rent.” Clients cooperate more fully when they are financially invested in their case. If the client is unwilling to commit financially, the matter quickly becomes your problem rather than the client’s.
  4. Don’t allow outstanding fees to accumulate during the course of representation. As soon as a payment is missed, call the client. Get to the root of the nonpayment. Is the client dissatisfied? If a client becomes seriously delinquent, terminate the attorney-client relationship and withdraw from representation if possible.
  5. Offer to resolve disputes through the Oregon State Bar’s Fee Dispute Resolution Program.

Before you sue

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Will a judgment be collectible if obtained?
  • Do you stand to gain or lose a substantial amount of money?
  • Are there any grounds upon which the client can credibly dispute the debt or any part of it?
  • Have you really listened to your client’s side of the dispute?
  • Was a good result obtained in the underlying case?
  • Has an uninvolved, experienced lawyer reviewed the file for possible malpractice?
  • Will a law suit result in bad publicity reflecting negatively on you or your law firm?
  • Have you offered to arbitrate, compromise or meet the client part way on the amount due?

Remember

Most collection problems can be averted at the outset of representation. A frank discussion of fees, finances, and billing procedures will greatly reduce the possibility of disputes.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

Creative Legal Marketing Ideas – Part 4

Our final installment on marketing during COVID-19 comes courtesy of Nifty Marketing. Review these suggestions and choose three that appeal to you. Set aside times in your calendar to implement each idea. Copy and paste the details or link from the original post to refresh your memory when the appointment day arrives.

Commitment

Committing to a calendar date increases the chance you will actually follow through. This is critical because our first instinct in a crisis is to ignore marketing altogether. Unfortunately this isn’t a realistic long-term strategy. Eventually you will run out of work. Better to jump start the process now of reaching out to potential new clients.

Taking Action

Speaking of taking action – if you haven’t embraced specifics from any prior post this month, then schedule time to do so. Make time on your calendar to skim through the ideas again. Pick three that make sense for your practice and schedule out implementation dates.

Regaining Control

By committing to six marketing ideas – three from today’s post and three from prior posts – you are taking back the future of your practice. Action produces results. It spurs on more action, and we feel better for it.

Today’s Marketing Ideas

  • Figure out ways to give back
  • Serve when possible
  • Learn how to be a storyteller and share via videos
  • Utilize your Google posts feed
  • Localize your Google My Business (GMB) page
  • Update your GMB hours of operation
  • Help other attorneys
  • Create a Facebook ad

Read about the details here. Don’t forget to copy and paste the relevant text (or the link) into your calendar when you create an implementation appointment.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

12 Ways to Market During COVID – Part 3

Today’s marketing tips come courtesy of the ABA Journal. Here are the highlights:

1. Call current and past clients to check in on how they are coping.
2. Turn your attorneys into visible experts online.
3. Spend four hours per week on business development.
4. Beef up your website to get new clients.
5. The more you blog, the more clients you will get.
6. Build good word of mouth with online reviews.
7. Out-market your competition—figure out how much to spend and where to spend.
8. Market with millennials in mind.
9. Make sure your website is easily accessible for mobile users.
10. Set up a video studio.
11. Your attorney bio should not be a dead end.
12. For social media, focus on Facebook and forget the rest.

I encourage you to read the full article. The author, Larry Bodine, has excellent insights and marketing data to back up each of his recommendations. He also shares specific action steps you can take now.

Have we heard some of these ideas before? Yes. Reminders never hurt. There are also plenty of new suggestions. If you implement even one or two of Larry’s suggestions you will be ahead of the game.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

Advice for Oregon Lawyers Amid COVID19 Closures and Postponements

With COVID19 news changing daily here are some suggested guidelines for keeping clients informed. This list first appeared on March 17. Modify as needed to comply with Governor Brown’s anticipated Executive Order of March 23 and Chief Justice Walters’s coming update to CJO 20-006.

Keeping Clients Informed Amid COVID19

  • Post notices on your website.
  • Keep your outgoing voicemail message up-to-date.
  • Send an “all client” status email.
  • Post reduced hours or closures at your office.
  • Limit or suspend in-person client visits.
  • Conduct appointments by phone or video conference.
  • Work at home if you can. If you can’t, follow CDC recommended health practices like washing hands frequently and sanitizing surfaces.
  • Prioritize client files. Follow-up with clients whose matters are now postponed or those with upcoming court dates.
  • For specific client outreach, use your phone, not email. Why? Clients will have lots of questions. If you persist with email the likelihood is you’ll be bouncing back and forth for some time addressing all their concerns. You will save time by calling and clients will be reassured when they hear your voice. If calls are running long politely explain you have other clients anxious to hear from you.
  • Use staff to spread the load. They can be a huge help reaching out to and responding to clients.
  • Get virtual help if you need it. To avoid being overwhelmed by calls, consider services like Ruby Receptionist who can help you remotely.
  • If you feel overwhelmed, call the confidential Oregon Attorney Assistance Program. They are available to take your calls and emails.
  • If you are worried about potential legal malpractice claims, reach out to the PLF by email.
  • For ethics questions, see this FAQ. Bar counsel’s office is available by phone or email or you can reach out to private ethics counsel. Keep in mind this is a living document which bar counsel continues to update.
  • Practice patience and kindness – especially toward yourself

Staying On Top of the Latest News

Visit the Oregon State Bar home page frequently for what applies “today.” Current restrictions, closures, and postponements may change.

All rights reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis