Don’t fool yourself into thinking your firm has a results-oriented system in place when it doesn’t. Here are some tips on managing and collecting accounts receivable.
By Jake Krocheski, Managing Consultant
Every law firm is different, but nearly all of them make the same mistakes when managing their accounts receivable and collection efforts. Some attorneys are good about collecting their receivables; many are not. They don’t like to do it and they are not good at it.
Taking decisive action to help prevent payment problems requires discipline and, as a first step, acknowledging there is a problem. Don’t fool yourself into thinking your firm has a results-oriented system in place when it doesn’t.
Here are 8 common misconceptions to avoid in managing and collecting accounts receivable.
We don’t need to evaluate our firm’s collection efforts. All family law firms should take the time and effort to evaluate whether they have A/R management best practices in places. The key questions to ask are:
-Do we have meaningful reports and information?
-Do we have a good understanding of how the attorneys are managing their A/R?
-Do we have the right administrative staff in place, and are they doing the right work the right way?
-Is the firm collecting its older, difficult A/R?
We don’t need to change how we perform collections. Take stock of what you are doing – and why – and evaluate what is and is not working. Look at everything, including how your firm historically has managed its receivables, to determine how well clients are paying, and whether changes need to be made in your processes and procedures. Hold everyone in the firm to a high standard of accountability in managing receivables to ensure progress is being made.
Black and white policies and procedures will solve our collections problems. Procedures need to be workable, not just written well. For those receivables that must be exceptions from regular collection procedures, monitor these exceptions closely. Giving too much autonomy to the attorneys is often at the root of a firm’s A/R problems.
Older, difficult A/R will eventually pay. Attorneys should not delude themselves into thinking that they are going to be paid without expending effort. Consistent follow-up efforts are the key to making progress with these types of accounts. You are making a big mistake if you think these types of receivables will be paid without working closely with clients and letting them know their account is being monitored.
We have the information needed to measure the progress of our collection efforts. A/R management information need to show that collection activity is moving forward and progress is being made on each account. Detailed reports should provide information on whether accounts are actively being pursued, what the payment status is, who is pursuing collections and what success they are having, why clients are not paying, and what steps are being taken to get them to pay.
We have the right administrative staff in place to perform collections. Determine what receivables they are working. Is their success with good-paying clients that just need reminding, or are they making collecting older, difficult accounts their priority? Most importantly, determine how many actual dollars they are collecting, especially the older, difficult accounts that continue to age.
Our clients will be upset if we ask them to pay. Law firms lose clients by doing poor work or by failing to deliver client service – not by asking clients to pay their bills. Managing receivables will not hurt the relationships as long as it is handled professionally. To help ensure success, do not be reluctant to hire professional staff with experience in A/R management for the legal profession.
Our clients understand our payment expectations. Institute regular, steady, professional follow-up of unpaid bills to determine when payment can be expected and to help guide future follow-up. If you show clients that the firm is regularly contacting them and monitoring their payment status, they will learn that you expect payment.
Jake Krocheski is President of Client Connection, a national company that focuses its practice on helping law firms manage their accounts receivable.