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

Should You Be Using Grammarly?

Do you rely on Microsoft Word’s grammar check to clean up your writing? You may want to make the switch to Grammarly, the online writing assistant.

Grammarly promises to help you write mistake-free in Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and any other app you use including text messages, your browser, and Microsoft Word. The basic version is free, with premium plans starting at $11.66 per month.

Security and Client Confidentiality

Grammarly data is encrypted and stored in the United States on a private, secure network. As to data access and client confidentiality:

Grammarly has a set of policies and technical controls that prevent employees from accessing customer data that is stored or processed by Grammarly systems. Where appropriate, Grammarly uses private keys and restricts network access to particular employees.

While Grammarly may track anonymized, aggregate statistics by website domain, Grammarly doesn’t collect browsing history from specific users while they browse the web. Information such as web server access logs or IP addresses is collected only for a limited time and only to provide specific services to the user, such as fraud prevention.

How Does Grammarly Work?

To learn how Grammarly works, we turn to Ayesha Siddiqua from Blogging Filter. Ayesha’s post covers all the details, including features, benefits, platforms, and plan specifics.

‘To err is human,‘ and that’s where the need for grammar checker tool emerges. I have curated this review post to let you know all about Grammarly, …

Grammarly Review: Is It the Best Grammar Checker Tool

All Rights Reserved 2020 Beverly Michaelis

Using Zoom for Video Conferencing

I love Zoom, but like any tech, there are potential vulnerabilities for new users.

Protect your Zoom account and avoid Zoombombing (aka hacking) by following these suggestions:

  • Be wary of links. Login at Zoom directly rather than using the meeting link. Enter the provided meeting ID to join a meeting.
  • Set screen sharing to host only. Doing so prevents your meeting from being hijacked by a hacker.
  • Use the waiting room feature to prescreen and approve attendees.
  • Try Zoom webinars instead (this is the method I use for all my CLEs). Webinar settings offer advanced controls, including several approaches to prescreening attendees.

Read more about these safety tips here.

Are Zoom Conferences Recorded?

Webinars

When I conduct Zoom CLE webinars, I record them. This is a setting I activate as host. It isn’t automatic.

Meetings

Zoom meetings are recorded by default. Zoom help explains this and instructs hosts on how to change settings. This is one area where the USA Today article is misleading. For information on Zoom encryption, see this.

Give Others a Heads Up

No matter what you do, it is common sense to give clients and others a heads up on how your video meeting will be conducted. Advise if you plan to record. Let attendees know if your conference is listen only, whether they can raise their hand, or submit questions.

Documenting Your File

Recordings have their place. For example, preserving the meeting as part of your file. Advanced settings in Zoom allow you to include all participant names, add a time stamp, save chat files, and automatically transcribe audio.

All in all, Zoom is a pretty terrific tool.

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