Chasing down non-paying clients is the bane of most lawyers’ existence. You may not be able to avoid ever having to deal with non-paying clients. However, if you take some intentional steps throughout your case, you can certainly reduce the incidence of non-payment.
Likely, the vast majority of the work you do for a client will not be performed in front of her. So if she rarely sees you in person and your primary communication is an invoice with a single line item for “Services Rendered,” she may feel less than thrilled about just cutting you a check, no questions asked.
Realistically, you can’t send daily email updates to every client. But to prevent payment delays, you should at least make sure the important correspondence (i.e., billing statements) meets certain criteria:
- Descriptive and easy to understand.
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. As much as possible, avoid legal jargon. Your objective is to give the client visibility into what you’re doing for them. And if you use too much technical language, your client may end up with even more questions.
- Delivered electronically and via postal mail.
Letters still sometimes get lost in transit and emails can get caught in SPAM filters. That’s why you should always send digital as well as hard copies of every invoice and keep records of when each was sent.
- Sent at approximately the same time each month.
As part of your intake process, establish when the client would prefer to receive her invoices. If you can ensure your invoice arrives consistently, there’s a greater chance she’ll be able to properly budget for it.
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 her case hasn’t fallen by the wayside. It’s a small gesture but it shows your client you appreciate her situation. When a client feels appreciated, she’s less inclined to be oppositional when it comes to payment.
Be Flexible About Payments
Offering multiple payment methods can decrease opportunities for delinquent accounts. While cash and checks are, of course, the standard, for many Americans they are becoming increasingly less popular ways to pay for products and services. In fact, only about half of all U.S. adults make sure they have cash on hand.
Consequently, a growing number of law firms are now accepting credit card and eCheck payments. And the most forward-thinking practices use online payment solutions, which make it even easier to avoid non-payment. With an online payment solution, you can accept payments in-person or on a secure payment page. You can also save yourself time by automating your invoicing and billing processes.
Unfortunately, there will likely be instances where you make the payment process as easy and straightforward as possible and clients still don’t pay. However, if you follow this advice, you’ll be in a position where dealing with non-payment can be a little less painful and far less frequent.