How to Get Paid in Full and On Time

Solos and small firms bank only 2.4 billable hours each day.

Here’s a stat that’s a shocker: the average solo and small firm lawyer banks only 2.4 billable hours each day.

The rest of their time is spent preparing bills, sending out invoices, managing the office, and performing a myriad of other administrative tasks. That means more than five hours of an eight-hour workday are not producing a penny in revenue.

Those are some of the findings from Clio’s 2018 Legal Trends Report.

“For many law firms, billing clients and chasing down payments can be one of the most time-consuming, repetitive, and dreaded parts of the job,” writes Clio blog editor Teresa Matich in this post.

Want key pointers on fees, billing and other practice management topics? Join the Alta Pro Lawyers RPG and get free access to the Pro Practice Playbook. Learn how to become a member here.

6 Ways to Get Paid for Your Work

  1. Consider billing alternatives like flat fees and contingent fees. Flat fees are a form of value billing. Your bill reflects the value provided to the client, not the time you spent working on the matter. Clients like the certainty of flat fees, and lawyers are incentivized to finish the project quickly and efficiently. Consider adding an outcome-based bonus to the base fee. Contingent fees are attractive to clients who can’t pay for your services up front. Minimize the risk of not getting paid by selecting cases wisely. Note: contingent fees are barred for some types of cases. Check your state’s ethics rules for details.
  2. Emphasize transparency. Clients hate surprises, especially when it comes to fees. Discuss your billing policy in the initial client interview. Make sure the client understands how you will charge for your services. Put your fee agreement in writing.
  3. Be reasonable. This isn’t optional. It’s required under Rule 1.5 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which says a lawyer may not collect an “unreasonable fee” or an “unreasonable amount for expenses.” The rule lists the following eight factors to determine if a fee is reasonable: (a) the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly; (b) the likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer; (c) the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services; (d) the amount involved and the results obtained; (e) the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances; (f) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; (g) the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services; (h) whether the fee is fixed or contingent.
  4. Offer a payment plan. According to the Legal Trends Report, 44 percent of law firms say clients don’t pay their bills because they don’t have the money to pay the bill in full. Offering a payment plan might solve this problem. “Before you start, it’s important to set up a system,” advises Matich. “Create clear guidelines for when to offer payment plans, draft an agreement template to determine how payments will be collected, what methods of payment will be accepted, and what happens when a payment is late.” Clio Manage software includes a payment tool that automates much of the process.
  5. Charge an evergreen retainer. “Here’s how it works: Your client provides an original retainer held in trust against which legal services are billed—and when their trust account hits a predetermined minimum balance, they replenish the funds. The key with this type of system is making sure to notify clients when trust funds are at or below the minimum balance required.”
  6. Give the client something. When you send a bill, attach or enclose some bit of information the client will find useful or interesting. This can be an article about the client’s line of work, a link to a relevant website, or a note congratulating your client or a member of their family for a recent accomplishment.

What methods do you use to make sure you get paid?

When you’re a member of the Alta Pro Lawyers RPG, you have a Pro Practice Partner on call when you need help. Learn how to join here.

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