When asked if billing is important, most attorneys would readily agree, but it is one of the least prioritized tasks in many small firms and solo practices. The processes and procedures that are put in place regarding billing, however, are proof of the old cliché “actions speak louder than words.” You might not be doing all five of these things wrong – but I bet you are doing at least two!
1. Delegating billing to staff – On the surface this seems like a great use of your time. Take a non-billable task and delegate it to staff. The reality of this practice is that the staff member who “inherits” billing is often the newest, least trained or only staff member. Staff might understand the premise, but lack the knowledge, education and training to do it properly. While they can enter data in whatever system you tell them to – understanding how to bill effectively, efficiently and consistently is not a skill you are born with. Attorneys must maintain both awareness and control over monthly billing to ensure clients are receiving accurate billings.
2. Billing inconsistently – Attorney’s fees are not a regular occurrence for most of your clients. They are a large, burdensome expense that requires budgeting for most clients. Holding billing until you have time to handle it means your clients are receiving large bills that they then must somehow find a way to pay. Billing monthly – every month – allows all of your clients to properly budget your fees so that they can pay your bills on time. It also allows you to maintain control over whether you have the right client base (or whether you are just a pro bono attorney in disguise).
3. Not showing evidence of discounts/unbilled time – All attorneys provide items at no cost, discount time or write off substantial portions of their time. Most fail to show all of these bill reductions to their clients. Client cannot appreciate how much time you have spent, or how much value you have provided if you fail to show them. Clients will also be less likely to ask for large bill reductions if they see you have already provided a reduction.
4. Not utilizing current technology for billing – My favorite saying when it comes to the legal field and technology? – A penny saved that costs you an hour of time is a net loss of $149.99. Many small firms and solo attorneys don’t think they can or should pay for billing programs. The reality of creating bills from word processing programs is that it takes much, much longer. There is a better tool (and an app) for all your billing needs now. Additionally, your struggles with billing are real – and have been solved in many ways, with many currently available options. Don’t recreate the wheel to save a penny – unless you drive a horse and buggy to save on fuel!
5. Recreating time instead of keeping time – Recreating time is simply one of the most time-consuming, horrific memories I have of working in small firms. Going through mountains of emails, documents, files, calendar entries and to-do lists all to try to find that “lost” time sucked hours and hours of my work life away. Learning a new system and finding a way to keep your time every day takes both dedication and time. But that time is well spent and much less than recreating time which is too often a regular part of the “billing” process.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lori Gonzalez is the President of the The RayNa Corporation – a legal billing and consulting company designed to assist law firms and solo attorneys with billing and efficiency. She currently serves on the Tennessee Access to Justice Commission’s Pro Bono Committee and coordinates the RCCBA weekly legal clinic.