Building a solid foundation with your clients can increase their satisfaction with your work, boost your collection rate, and gain you more business. And remember: doing good work gets you clients; sending good bills gets you paid.
By Michelle Lowe, Finance and Technology Expert
Every lawyer strives to achieve a high collection rate, and family lawyers are no different. Historically, lawyers have tried to increase their bottom lines by requiring a large payment upfront or asking for a large retainer. Today, however, a more personable approach can go a much longer way in keeping both clients and lawyers as satisfied as possible with the outcome of their cases.
By implementing the following techniques and strategies, you can foster a solid foundation with each client you take on and increase their potential satisfaction with your work – as well as their likelihood to pay your bills.
1. Be Upfront and Clear Regarding Costs
The best lawyer-client relationships have open and clear lines of communication. You can start demonstrating your trustworthiness by being as upfront and transparent as possible from the get-go.
When you first meet with your client, make sure that your rate is clear and explain your expectations of the case right away. It is difficult to predict what your client’s spouse (or their lawyer) will be aiming for in a divorce, so make sure your client understands that the total cost may be equally difficult to predict. Regardless, assure your client that you will do everything in your power to effectively represent their interests while also keeping the process as affordable as possible.
In doing so, you will leave much less room for headaches down the road, when your client may feel they did not get precisely what they wanted. Instead, you are cultivating a more realistic idea of what complex issues may arise during the case, which will lead to a higher sense of their confidence in you – and a higher likelihood of your client paying you for your services.
2. Be Predictable with Your Invoices
When it comes to paying bills, nobody likes unpleasant surprises. Be sure to set reasonable expectations on cost and do your best to deliver within a reasonable range. If you are tracking above your estimate, take the time to communicate to your client before they receive your invoice, explaining what changed in their case that resulted in higher fees.
You should also aim to send your bill as soon as your services have been rendered. You may have heard of renowned lawyer Jay Foonberg’s “Client’s Curve of Gratitude,” which shows that your client’s feeling of satisfaction with your work will start to diminish almost as soon as a settlement has been reached – even if you achieved a successful outcome. As such, the longer you wait to send your bill, the less likely your client is to pay it. If a client receives your bill a month or two after their case is officially finished, they may have forgotten about all the hard work you put in and wonder why they owe you money at all. However, if you send your bill as soon as your work is done (and still fresh in your client’s mind), they will likely feel that your bill is justified and will send their payment right away.
Delaying your bills sends the message: “I don’t really need your money.” However, if you are consistent with your billing schedule, your client can expect when your bill will arrive and can plan around it.
Staying on top of a consistent monthly billing cycle is far easier when using an online payment solution. You can send your client a payment request via email as soon as their case is over, and they can pay your bill easily with a few mouse clicks. The convenience of paying you online can lead to a higher rate of satisfaction with their decision
to choose you as their lawyer.
3. Avoid Legalese in Your Invoice
Have you ever received a utility bill and furrowed your brow when reading the details of your charges? Imagine how your client might feel if they do not understand what they are being charged for. That is why it is vital to write your bills in plain, jargon-free language.
A good, descriptive bill can help prevent complaints from your clients. If they have a clear understanding of the work you did, then your clients will likely feel your bill is reasonable and justified – which leads to payment. Avoid descriptions that are meaningless to your client (such as “reviewed file .5”), try to avoid legal terms, and be precise.
Be mindful of what you are billing for. Do not charge your clients for minor things or common office supplies. Instead, consider listing services in your bill that you have provided free of charge: such as fielding a quick phone call or answering an email related to the case. Such good deeds will not go unnoticed. They will increase your collection
rate and gain you more business.
Never forget: doing good work gets you clients; sending good bills gets you paid.
Michelle Lowe is the Senior Brand Manager for LawPay, an online payment solution for the legal industry. Michelle has over 15 years of experience in finance and technology. LawPay is an approved Member Benefit of 48 state bars, trusted by more than 50,000 lawyers, and is the only payment solution offered through the ABA Advantage program. www.lawpay.com
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