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

Holiday Stress Revisited

You may feel there’s nothing you can do about stress. The bills won’t stop coming, there will never be more hours in the day, and your work and family responsibilities will always be demanding. However, you have more control over stress than you might think. No matter how stressful your life seems, you can take steps to relieve the pressure and regain balance.

How? By using the four A’s:

Avoid

Alter

Adapt

Accept

For specific advice on how to cope with holiday expectations and holiday-related stress, review these articles from the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program:

Updated 2020 All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis

Strengthening Client Relationships During COVID-19

Client needs are evolving. Has your service model kept pace?
Learn how to innovate and adapt to build better, sustainable relationships.

This program will focus on:

Identifying changing client needs
Becoming more client-centric
Advancing client service through technology
Adapting your communication style
Maximizing social media and website content to reassure clients
Developing flexible fee arrangements and billing practices
Improving client retention and renewing relationships

Date/Time/Location

Wednesday, December 2, 2020 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Pacific Time.  This is a live, online webinar. 

Register Now!

Registration is open for Strengthening Client Relationships During COVID-19.

Who Should Attend?

Lawyers, legal staff, conflict managers, or office administrators – anyone interested in improving client relationships during challenging times.

Group Discounts

Discounts available to firms who wish to register 5 or more attendees. Contact organizer to arrange a discount code before registering: beverly@oregonlawpracticemanagement.org.

Does the Program Include Written Materials?

Yes. Written materials will be distributed electronically to attendees.

Questions, Live Polling, and MCLE

Questions are welcome during the live event.  Attendees are also encouraged to participate in live, anonymous polling. OSB MCLE credit pending.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

Reminder: Face Masks Required in the Workplace

With more offices reopening part or full time, a reminder that face masks are a requirement:

Face shields are not recommended unless you are speaking to someone who relies on lip reading to communicate.

Need Signage for Your Office?

Visit the Oregon Health Authority website, scroll down, and locate the “Masks Required” Sign for Business icon. Select the drop down and choose the appropriate language or large print version.

On-Demand Office Space

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com

There are many options when it comes to on-demand office space. You can rent a conference room or a private office to limit access from other people. Or you can work in a row with other remote employees. Attorney Yuriy Moshes offers a few things to consider when choosing flexible office space.

On-Demand Office Environments for Legal Business — NWSidebar

 

In his NWSidebar post, Moshes gives four solid reasons to consider flex or co-working space: privacy, safety, convenient working conditions, and most importantly: big savings. When evaluating your options, Moshes suggests focusing on location and networking potential. Private space is key, both for client confidentiality and proper social distancing. Read the full post here.

Flex Space in Oregon

I last wrote about flex space three years ago. As I mentioned then, there are free and low-cost options statewide and in the Portland Metro Area. COVID-19 has affected some, but not all meeting sites.

Closed

The Oregon Lawyers’ Conference Room in downtown Portland is a free meeting space courtesy of the PLF and Oregon Attorney Assistance Program. Due to COVID-19, it is currently closed, as are the OSB Center meeting rooms.

Open

Alternatively, the MBA Conference Room is open for MBA members. Contact the MBA for details and availability at 503.222.3275 or mba@mbabar.org. Remember to download and submit the MBA Conference Room Use Form as part of your reservation.

Outside PDX

The PLF historically maintained a list of  “Oregon Meeting Rooms” on its website. When the Oregon Lawyers’ Conference Room was up and operating, this resource was on the same page, under the heading “Other Options for Meeting Space – Metro Area | Statewide.”  With the joint PLF/OAAP closure notice, the link to the list is no longer there. If you’re looking for free or inexpensive meeting space outside the Portland metro area, contact the PLF practice management advisors or other PLF Risk Management employees and request a PDF of this resource. It will be critical to call in advance as not all meeting rooms may be open.

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis