What They Didn’t Teach You in Law School #2: How to Get Paid by Your Clients

These days, it seems like many people are trying to cut down expenses and avoid paying bills. This puts attorneys in a particularly difficult position because attorneys often expect to be paid regardless of results, and some clients may choose to stick legal bills at the bottom of their to-do list. While you probably did not go to law school to learn about administrative tasks and business management, one of the most critical issues for any legal services provider is learning how to get customers to pay you. Check out the following tips on how to get paid and how to get paid on time by your clients:

Make billing part of your new client intake by asking clients a few direct questions: How do you plan to pay me? Where do you work, and do you have a regular source of income? Will a third-party provide the initial retainer fee? If your unpaid balance reaches a certain level, will you give me authorization to charge your credit card?

Bill early, often and consistently. Instead of waiting until you are finished with a client file, bill on a monthly cycle. The sticker shock of a year-end, $15,000 bill will seem a lot less daunting to clients when it is broken down into twelve, smaller, monthly bills.

Provide in every invoice a detailed accounting of services rendered. When you go to the doctor, the bill lists every poke and prod so patients will know exactly why they are paying so much. Do the same with your legal clients so they will know exactly what they are getting for their bucks. If you write a complaint that takes 20 hours to draft and file, break it down into smaller segments—5 hours for document review, 2 hours for drafting the statement of facts, .5 hours for outlining the argument, and so on.

Be sure to include billing details in your engagement letter by spelling out your rates and the exact terms of the engagement. In addition, include a provision that allows you to disengage from representing the client in the event of nonpayment.

Offer incentives to clients who pay on time. For example, if the client pays within seven days of the invoice date, knock off 10% of the bill.

Send out a bill even if you are doing the work pro bono. Include in the invoice the regular price for time or services, and add a column for discounts. This will let the client know that your time is valuable, and it may encourage the client to become a paying customer down the road.

Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope with the invoice so clients can quickly and easily send checks back to you.

Finally, get creative and include a personal touch with your statement. This can be anything from a quick note or a company newsletter to a magnet or keychain bearing your firm’s logo. In addition, Lawyerist suggests adding a photo to help clients identify with the human side of the lawyer, such as a family picture or a photo of yourself volunteering at a charity event. Adding personal touches can help boost your invoice to the priority list by letting clients know that you value their business and by giving clients a positive image of you and your .