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Ed Poll
  Week of November 6, 2007

The "Perfect Bill" is One
That Gets Paid!

Although the main purpose of the bills that you send to clients is to make sure you get paid, there is a secondary purpose that lawyers often miss: to leave the client with a favorable impression of the services he or she received. In other words, your bill is another tool for client communication. The perfect bill is one that speaks clearly and directly to clients about how you as a lawyer have improved their lives.
As we've often discussed in this newsletter, good communication begins at the start of every client engagement by putting into writing as much information as possible about your billing practices. Once you establish your benchmarks, bill in a regular and timely way, using statements that contain a full narrative of the work done and the value achieved by that work. This allows you to provide status updates easily and to reinforce that every action you took on behalf of the client had a purpose. Also, because legal services are often intangible, the more information you can provide about how hard you worked and what your work accomplished, the more likely the client will be to perceive the bill as fair and to pay it promptly.
Don't be afraid to be too detailed when setting forth what you do charge for. Too many lawyers make the mistake of brevity when billing. For example, "Work on motion for summary judgment, 20 hours." Break any such charge into its basic elements, with the amount of time needed for each: Review key documents and deposition testimony, draft statement of uncontested facts as required by court procedure, research precedents in four similar cases, and so on. Such itemization does not try clients' patience-it helps them understand just how much you did on their behalf. Use action verbs to describe your services. Clearly indicate the specifics of what was accomplished. This gives clients an appreciation of the effort required for success.
If the perfect bill is understandable and detailed, it should also be easy to receive and pay by taking advantage of all that technology affords. One simple way to do this is to email bills as PDF files (which cannot be modified by the recipient) rather than sending them through the mail; such speed and convenience often result in quicker payment. For corporate clients, consider using an electronic invoicing service that performs the routine work of certifying compliance with the client's billing rules to assign fees and costs by matter handled and requesting lawyer. Finally, for clients of any size, afford the ultimate convenience of paying the bill by credit card.
The only formal billing requirement, according to Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5, is that "a lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an unreasonable fee." If your charges are reasonable, fully documented, and payment is convenient, you've crafted a perfect bill that the client will pay.

Ed Poll

By Edward Poll
(6x9", 143 pages + with CD of forms soft cover, ISBN: 1-59031-153-1, Published by American Bar Association, 2003)
The CD contains forms for intake, engagement letters, status report, budget, sample bills and collection letters, accounts receivable aging reports and more.
Click here to purchase the book and CD for only $79.95

Ed Poll
Ed Poll

Personal Commentary
We all know the consequences to the attorney if (s)he fails to perform according to the community standards of excellence. What are the consequences to the client if payment is not made? How can the lawyer be more assured of payment and what can the lawyer do if the client fails to pay the bill? Is walking away from the bill the only safe thing to do if clients fail to pay? My upcoming teleseminar will address these important issues.
Teleseminar Series: Collecting Your Fee: Getting Paid from Intake to Invoice
When: November 14, 2007 (10:00 - 11:00 a.m. PT)
Organization: West LegalEdcenter
Click here for signup information
Best wishes,
Ed Poll

Ed Poll
Ed Poll

What Readers Are Saying...
"Ed Poll has done it again. He's created a down-to-earth guide for lawyer to collect his or her unpaid bills. The book is full of practical advice such as, 'if you don't create a collection policy, your clients will create one for you.'
"The book offers lots of good advice on engagement letters, detailed bills, fee agreements and intake forms. Plus it's loaded with useful forms.
"If you read this book, you'll have a lot less trouble getting paid for your work."
-Larry Bodine, Web and Marketing Consultant

Ed Poll
Ed Poll

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