How To Avoid Billing Disputes

Protect Your Reputation

When it comes to your client-attorney relations, the last thing you want to go through is a dispute over payment.

Not only is this inconvenient and uncomfortable for everyone involved, but it can badly damage the reputation of you and your firm.

Billing disputes usually arise when clients get bills that are much larger than they expected.

Fortunately, you can avoid this kind of shock by following a few important protocols.

Let’s take a look.

Clear Expectations

The best course of action you can take is to be clear about all expectations right up front.

When you meet with your client, ensure that they know exactly what it is you are agreeing to do for them, and what you won’t be doing for them.

You also need to ensure that they are perfectly clear what they are obligated to pay for.

Spell it out and walk them through this.

Trust me, it will pay off to detail your client’s financial obligations before they ever receive a bill.

This way, when they eventually do receive an invoice, the costs listed align with their expectations and there are no additional fees that they are not prepared to see.

Avoid The Use of Vague Terms

I would encourage you to further your efforts to be clear and transparent by avoiding the use of vague and ambiguous terms in your invoices.

One of the common ones that frequently pops up is ‘rework’.

Don’t leave your client guessing what this might mean.

Instead, give a brief description of what this re-work actually entailed.

This also gives you an opportunity to show the value of your services and the benefits they have received by hiring you.

It’s a win-win.

Another term to be avoided is ‘meeting’.

Instead, provide a concise description of what the meeting entailed, and be specific so your clients know what they are paying for.

Taking these extra steps keeps your clients in the loop and shows them you have an interest in making sure that they know what is going on and where their money is going.

Communicate With Your Clients

If there is something unusual in the bill, or it is higher than expected for some reason, absolutely take the time and make the effort to communicate this with your client before you send out the invoice.

It doesn’t matter what the reasons are for the changes or additional fees, the point is that you don’t want to deliver this news via an invoice.

Call them, lest you leave them feeling insignificant.

Of course, if you have followed the previous protocols, your clients will have been notified already of the potential for changes of this nature, and a call like this won’t be totally unexpected.

Simply put, don’t let your clients ever experience surprise regarding payments.

Take responsibility and be proactive with your communication.

Consider Your Charges

The rule, of course, is to be complete and accurate when creating your bill, however, there are some services that you will want to consider leaving off the invoice.

This includes work done on flawed documents, and revisions that you had to make to correct any errors.

Clients simply are not going to want to pay for the time it takes you to correct your own mistakes.

You might also want to consider leaving out the two-minute phone call you made or the moments you spent looking through your filing cabinet.

Entries like this may look petty on an invoice.

Ultimately it is up to you, but I recommend at least giving it a consideration and try seeing it from their perspective.

Accuracy

The best way to ensure complete accuracy in your timekeeping is to use appropriate software that captures the data as you work.

I wrote on this subject in my series on common lawyer mistakes, and discussed some of the great software options available to you.

You can read this article by clicking this link

The point is that it is difficult to remember exactly what you did, and how long it took you, if you wait until the end of the day or week to record it.

This opens up the possibility of inaccuracies, which means you could potentially over-charge your client or lose payment for time you have legitimately worked.

One last thing, please do a proof read through of your invoice before you send it off.

If clients do catch an error that you missed, it can erode their confidence in the legal skills you are meant to be using on their behalf.

It is worth the time and money to make that quick review and ensure complete accuracy.

Closing Thoughts

If you follow these protocols in your invoicing methodology, you will steer clear of the pitfalls that can cause damage to your reputation.

At the same time, your clients will respect and recognize the efforts you are making to ensure that they are receiving full-value for their money.

This effort bleeds into your marketing, as happy clients go out of their way to recommend and refer to those that they know.

Take the time to communicate and avoid those nasty disputes!

Until next time.

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