Spring Cleaning: More than Dust Bunnies

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Although it may not feel like it now, spring is not too far around the corner. And during spring, you can't escape those killer dust bunnies. They lurk in corners, growing larger and more ominous with time. And eventually, no matter how frightening, you have to deal with them.

That is what spring cleaning is all about — getting rid of those dust bunnies and making your home a more pleasant place.

In the business of law, you also need to deal with spring cleaning. I'm not talking about literal dust bunnies, although you must deal with those too, since a dirty office does not reflect well on you as a lawyer. What I'm talking about is dusting off those files and making sure that everything is cleaned up.

In other words, you need to check your files to see which clients have not paid their bills.

The call

Once you determine which clients owe you money, you must have someone at your law firm call the client to collect the outstanding amount. The lawyer should not call the client himself; successful businesses always employ a separate credit department to handle collections.

Once called, the client usually will make a commitment for a certain payment, even if only partial.

The caller should mark the calendar for that date. The caller should attempt to get a commitment of no more than 10 days out. If the check does not arrive on time, the caller should call the client the very next day. Each set of calls should be approximately 10 days apart.

The caller should complete this process several times over a period of not more than six to eight weeks. (And you thought getting those dust bunnies under the bed was challenging!)

Be sure that the client's responses to questions on the phone are noted in the file. That will build a record that no complaint was ever registered by the client and unanswered in the event that either you sue to collect fees or the client, at some future date, brings a case for malpractice.

The plan

A payment plan may be suggested if the client does not offer anything concrete or acceptable. One such plan may involve payment on a current basis (essentially, cash on delivery) with some additional sum being applied toward the old bill, plus a fair rate of interest.

At least the bill accrued to date will not increase, and you will receive additional business. Another approach may be to agree that a sum certain will be paid monthly. That amount can be calculated by estimating the total fee and the time for concluding the matter. Divide the total by the number of months to determine the monthly payment.

The last resort

If the client does not participate in the process by keeping a promise to pay as billed, do not continue to work for the client. Either notify the client or, in certain circumstances, make an appropriate motion before the court to be removed from the case.

Some statistics show that the lawyer/creditor is successful in more than 95 percent of litigation against a client/debtor. Of course, when litigation occurs between a lawyer and a client, it is obvious that there will be no future relationship between the two — an automatic loss of future business.


The great thing about spring cleaning in terms of client files is that it doesn't have to be a yearly event. If you keep tabs on collections throughout the year, those “dust bunnies” won't lurk in your file cabinet corners.