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LawBiz® TIPS – Week of August 20, 2013

LawBiz(r) newsletter

During our Airstream travels this week, we went through Eugene, OR, the home of a novel and very popular bike, the folding Bike Friday. A good friend and great management consultant, Dave Gardner, had recommend that we visit the shop and meet the founder and owner of Bike Friday, Alan Scholz, and his daughter, Hanna Scholz, the general manager. They were most hospitable, showing me, my wife and two of our travel companions around the shop and store.

After the tour, Alan and I talked about a variety of cycling topics, including customer service. From the extensive amount of time that Alan and a couple of his employees spent with us, it is clear that he understands AND practices customer service. Though we had no intention of purchasing a bike when we stopped, because of his hands-on approach and the intense attention to the detail of the rider and his/her bike, Alan suddenly had 4 "live" prospects. More than prospects, the probability is that his kindness will result in the sale of 4 Bike Fridays! Not bad for a little courtesy and caring about the people that buy/use your products and services.

What are you doing to generate this kind of feeling? What are you doing to generate this goodwill? What are you doing to create advocates for your services?
Ed signature

Responding to a Write-down Request

Low realization (the percentage of what is billed that is actually collected) results from not telling clients at the beginning of an engagement what is expected of them through an effective, written collection policy. But even with a collections policy in place and spelled out in detail, a dilemma in these tough economic times may occur. If a client receives the lawyer's bill, contends that it is too high, and refuses to pay it unless the invoice is written down, there are at least two ways to respond to such a request, depending on how the collection policy for the engagement has been structured.

If the client signed an engagement agreement before the matter began, the lawyer is under no obligation to write down the invoice simply because the client thinks it is too high. Because the engagement agreement is the foundation for all invoices, be as detailed as possible in the terms spelled out. Two criteria in particular can prevent a write-down request. The first, as noted previously, is to include a written fee agreement. Second is to define the collection cycle that sets specific dates of the month by which clients will be billed. For example, state in the agreement that invoices will be sent on or about the twenty-fifth of the month with payment due by the twentieth of the following month. With the terms established, bill in a regular and timely way, using statements that contain a full narrative of the work done and the goal accomplished by that work.

However, a lawyer could consider a fee write-down to adjust bills that are in dispute in order to match value as seen by the client. The only professional requirement is that a fee should be reasonable, and in proportion to the value of the services performed. Does the lawyer have the skill and experience to justify the fee? Does the client understand the amount and nature of the fee and the work done to justify it? Answering no to either of these questions could mean that an invoice write-down is warranted.

Note that what is being discussed here is not the result of a matter but the value a client attaches to it. For lawyers to guarantee a result in a legal matter comes under Rule of Professional Conduct 7.1's prohibition of false or misleading communication, which the ABA's commentary says includes "lead[ing] a reasonable person to form an unjustified expectation" about what an attorney can accomplish. However, lawyers and law firms can be held accountable to a level of effort and standard of performance for service within the lawyer's own control, and a firm may feel that a write-down is the best way to resolve a dispute.

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In this issue:

Responding to a Write-down Request

Secrets of The Business of Law® - 40% OFF!

Video: Check Clearing Policies

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What Clients Are Saying:

"Ed Poll created and presented your three-day workshop "Starting, Operating, Growing and Profiting from the Practice of Law" for our Law School, the Continuing Legal Education Committee and the Washington Law School Foundation. Ed's professional management skills and presentation talents provided our alumni and students with an outstanding program. The evaluations, both oral and written, were excellent and demonstrated that his audience agreed. One evaluator was particularly appreciative of the thought-provoking and interesting new concepts. Another said, "I have a much better understanding of what I'm to do -- I'm energized. Thank you!" Ed had a major impact on the future of our attendees; this is a unique quality and we are most appreciative of his efforts to create such an interesting and informative program. I enjoyed working with him and look forward to doing so again."

John F. Rapp
Director, CLE
University of Washington

"Ed Poll's efforts resulted in the success of our Mid Year CLE Program event. During the planning stages of this Mid Year Program, the Section's leadership indicated that if 75 lawyers attended the program, it would be considered a success. With our program attendance at over 100 attendees, the leadership clearly is very pleased with our efforts and want to continue bringing programs to the solo and small firm practitioner. We look forward to this challenge of making the Mid Year Program a regular event."

Lee S. Kolczun, Chair
Sole Practitioners and Small Firms Committee
American Bar Association

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