One of the joys of having your own practice is that you can choose which cases you accept. As a result many attorneys find greater career satisfaction from their work. But while it’s great to love your work, you also have to get paid in order to keep your practice healthy. Unfortunately, getting paid isn’t always as easy it should be. Indeed, at some point in your career you’ll almost certainly face clients who don’t pay their bills; clients who drag their feet before paying their bills; and clients who try to renegotiate your rate after you’ve performed the work. Being stiffed or dealing with late payments drains the money out of your firm.
Here are a few tips for getting paid quickly for your work:
Require a Deposit
Requiring a retainer is a great way to make sure you don’t get stiffed. Many attorneys do require their clients to make an advance payment before they’ll begin work on a case. This is true regardless of whether you are charging a flat fee rate or an hourly rate. However, under most circumstances, you are required to place that money into a trust account until you have completed the project. Consult your local bar association’s professional rules of conduct to make sure your retainer arrangement is in compliance.
Send Regular and Timely Invoices
You want to get paid faster? Send your invoices both promptly and at regular intervals. For example, I send carefully drafted invoices to my clients listing either 1) the deliverables promised under our flat fee agreement, or 2) monthly invoices detailing the hourly work I performed on a case. The sooner you send your invoices every month requesting payment performed on the work performed thus far, the better. Your invoices should include a date by which payment is due. I recommend sending a reminder to your client on that date, reminding them that payment is due.
Accept Other Methods of Payment
As you may recall, we previously discussed ways in which you could accept credit card payments from clients. Specifically, tools such as PayPal and Square provide easy methods by which you can accept immediate payment from clients either in person or over the Internet. By offering these services you provide your clients with additional methods for making payments quickly and conveniently. The downside, of course, is that these services do include services fees that will nibble away at your fees. That said, a small transaction fee is certainly preferable to nonpayment.
The ABA Model Rules does approve of attorneys accepting credit cards for payments. However, you’d be wise to check with your state’s specific ethical rules if in doubt.
Do you have any tricks for getting paid faster? We’d love to hear them in the comments.
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