Legal Billing Dos and Don’ts: Your Quick Reference for Getting Paid
Whether you work for a large firm or you run your own private practice, getting your billing right is absolutely crucial. After all, your business can’t thrive without steady payments.
Bad billing habits can lead to confused or frustrated clients who may delay or outright refuse to send in their payment, so it’s in your best interest to keep clients happy in order to keep your cash flowing.
Keep this list handy to ensure your bills are as client-friendly as possible.
4 Legal Billing Dos
1. Do keep detailed and timely records.
Make sure every task you complete is recorded in a log you can easily reference later. Also, while it may seem simpler to record your tasks under one umbrella category, this might make clients suspicious that you are padding your hours. Include a thorough description of the individual steps that make up larger projects as providing more detail will lend more credence to the items on your bill.
Many legal professionals will record their tasks in 10-15 minute increments, with some going as detailed as six minutes at a time.
2. Do record your tasks as soon as you complete them.
Enter tasks into your billing or timekeeping software as soon as you finish them, or as close to completion time as possible. If you delay, you may get distracted by another task and may not accurately remember the details.
“A reminder hint I use when I can’t remember is to check your outgoing email each day,” notes Claude Ducloux, attorney at law and director of ethics, education, and compliance at LawPay. “Your email is a terrific source of clues as to what you worked on during your busy day.”
3. Do use descriptive but easy-to-understand language on your invoices.
You don’t have to outline your time to the minute, but use separate line items for the larger tasks and include a brief summary of the work you did on each invoice. As much as possible, avoid legal jargon.
Your objective is to give the client visibility into what you are doing for them. If you use too much technical language, your client may end up with even more questions. (As an added bonus, having these details documented can also be helpful if a client attempts to contest a charge in the future.)
4. Do send bills on a predictable schedule.
Plan a consistent time and date to send your bill out every month. If possible, establish when the client would prefer to receive their invoices as part of your intake process. This will give your clients a reasonable idea as to when they will receive your bill and minimize the chance that your bill’s arrival surprises them. It also ensures your client can budget for your bill in advance and pay it more promptly.
In addition, the routine can reinforce your own habits of recording your time diligently on a regular basis.
4 Legal Billing Don’ts
1. Don’t charge for office supplies or for time spent on routine office tasks.
Though it’s good to be thorough with your billing, don’t go overboard with your charges. For example, your clients should not have to pay for staples, paper clips, or any other office supplies you used.
You also shouldn’t charge for small office tasks such as printing a single-page document or for time spent on billing. Keep your billing strictly to your progress on your client’s case. The cost of having and maintaining standard office supplies should come out of your own pocket, not your client’s.
2. Don’t wait too long to send your bill.
Ideally, you want to send your bill as close as possible to the day the services were rendered. If you wait longer, your collection rate will steadily decrease over time. Remember: the longer you wait to send your bill, the less likely it will be paid on time (or at all).
When your bill is ready to go, do not delay sending it out. The best time to send out your bill is as close to Day Zero as possible. This way, the case is still fresh in their mind and payment for your services feels appropriate and warranted.
3. Don’t keep your clients in the dark.
Sometimes you might find yourself in a bit of a holding pattern due to circumstances outside your or your client’s control and so you won’t have anything to bill for one month.
In those situations, whenever possible you should try to still send some sort of note to let your client know their case hasn’t fallen by the wayside. It’s a small gesture but it shows your client you appreciate their situation. When a client feels appreciated, they are less inclined to be oppositional when it comes to payment.
4. Don’t restrict how your clients can pay
Today, people like having many payment options available to them. Let clients pay their bills online with credit and debit cards. The easier your bill is to pay, the more likely it is that clients will pay and pay on time.
When you give your clients multiple options, you eliminate the chances of payment becoming difficult for them. By using an online payment solution designed specifically for the legal industry, like LawPay, your clients will always have an easy bill-paying experience.
Unfortunately, there will likely be instances where you make the payment process as easy and straightforward as possible and clients still don’t pay. While unpleasant, collections are part and parcel of running your own business. However, if you take some intentional steps throughout your case, you can certainly reduce the incidence of non-payment.
As a proud New York State Bar Association member benefit, LawPay wants to help you take charge of your payments and get paid faster. Sign up for LawPay by March 31 to receive a free wireless charging notebook and three months of no monthly program fee! Get started at lawpay.com/nysba.