Few of us became lawyers without incurring substantial debt and forgoing opportunities to earn a living during those years of studying. Further, most of us entered the profession with the expectation of earning at least an above-average income. Providing pro bono, low bono, and other charity services is noble and should be encouraged. That said, you cannot do those things if you cannot afford to keep the doors open and the lights on.
It is important to get paid for the work you do because of the investment of time and money you have made in your career, the time and skill you invest in doing the work, and in order to allow you to afford to give back to the community. It is also completely acceptable for you to expect to be paid for the work you do — do not feel guilty for it. Here are 5 keys to getting paid for the work you do.
1. Do good work.
When you do good work for your clients, they are more inclined to pay. When you do so with honesty and integrity, there will be fewer unpleasant surprises for your client and they will respect you.
2. Learn to talk about money with your client.
Tell your client up front what your services will cost, and why they are worth the cost. Again, the fewer surprises, the better. It also ensures that your client’s expectations are managed. Then, as the case proceeds, discuss the rising costs and the need for payment with the client regularly.
3. Pick the right fee.
Hourly is not the only way to bill, but it can work in almost all cases. Flat fees are easy to collect and fit many cases. Contingency fees are lucrative and appropriate in certain cases. Combinations of the above can work well when done right.
4. Review and send bills regularly.
Keep the client informed about the fees in the case. Keep yourself informed about the fees in the case. If you forget to send bills, it is easy for the client to forget to pay them.
5. Collect regularly and wisely.
Eventually, you will have clients who do not pay. Consider your collection options and the clients. Litigating a collection lawsuit might be more costly than it is worth. Many times, a client responds with a bar complaint or a malpractice claim, which costs you valuable time even if it is completely baseless. Think about offering discounts in return for lump-sum payments — especially around tax refund time. Most importantly, do not ignore the accounts receivable. They are easier to manage when you deal with them regularly and routinely. Lastly, try not to get emotional about collecting, even though you know you worked hard and did good work for the client who is not paying: it is just part of the business.