There are a lot of annoyances that come with running your own firm, but for most attorneys, if they were to list their top five pet peeves, unpaid bills would be at or near the top. At the same time, if you were to poll dissatisfied clients, one of their pet peeves would be legal billing.
Clients skip the check for a number of reasons. Some are broke. Some are simply cheap. For many, however, they refuse to pay because they feel that the bill is inflated or otherwise unfair. The easiest way to quell these concerns is with proper billing practices. Here are a few to consider:
Enter time often, or better yet, as it accrues. Yes, entering time is a pain in the butt. We've all procrastinated on it, only to later try to forensically recreate time entries from scraps of paper and faded memories. This is the quickest way to make innocent mistakes -- from accidental padding to omitting entries you're entitled to. Many of the new cloud practice management platforms, in addition to handing accounting, billing, and invoicing, also have a quick timer feature. Click it once to start, once to stop, and then quickly add the entry. There are also smartphone apps for as-you-go time tracking. At a minimum, enter billables daily.
Provide detailed descriptions of each major task. Ever see an attorney's bill that reads like this: "Doc review. Motion draft. Discovery req. Meeting."? Ask yourself, "If I were a human, would I understand this?" You don't need to write a dissertation for each entry, but an entry such as, "Read Plaintiff's response to Bill of Particulars. Drafted motion to compel" makes your hourly rate much easier to accept.
Never Block Bill. When a client sees 7.5 hours for a list of generic tasks (see above example), it raises the red flags of padding and inefficiency. Instead, break down the time into major tasks (discovery, motion practice, meetings and correspondence), and provide appropriate descriptions.
Bill regularly. Some attorneys bill monthly or biweekly. Some bill only at the conclusion of the case. Others get retainers and deduct as they go, sending statements and requests for replenishment haphazardly. We're of the mindset that monthly or biweekly billing is best. Bills that are sent regularly, throughout the case, are likely to be paid regularly, throughout the case. Plus, if you save it all for the end, the amount looks more formidable. Bleed 'em request compensation slowly, right?
Make policies clear and universal. You provide detailed entries. Your partner doesn't. Your entries are written in proper case. HE USES ALL CAPS. Can you see how this could annoy clients? Every member of the firm should enter billables the same way, and according to the same schedule.
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