Communication is key to maintaining positive relationships, and positive client relationships are key to a successful legal practice. Unfortunately, lawyers are not commonly known for their client communication skills. In fact, poor communication is one of the most common complaints against law firms.
The consequences of poor communication can be significant for law firms, but the most stressful situations tend to center around billing disputes, where clients do not pay their bills for one reason or another. Lawyers can better work to avoid these billing issues by communicating clearly and consistently to lessen confusion about bills and promote client satisfaction.
Let’s look at some billing language examples to help your law firm effectively communicate with your clients, and potentially replace billing pushback with faster payments.
Make it Clear from the Outset
Be clear right from the start. Have a discussion about your fees before beginning any work on a case. You should also put this information in writing by adding payment clauses to your retainer agreements and engagement letters.
For example, if your law firm accepts various forms of language, LawPay offers this language you can use in your retainer agreement or engagement letter to adequately communicate the available options:
Your legal fees are due and payable [upon receipt of the billing]to be paid not later than [the last day of the month]and may be satisfied with any of the following payment options:
- By the application of funds held in the firm’s trust account for prepayment of fees, which the firm shall be entitled to transfer upon invoicing
- By paying by paper check or ACH (automated deduction from client’s designated checking account)
- By the use of a credit card in person or by accessing the firm’s payment page [insert your hyperlink], provided that client understands that by clicking “Enter Payment” the client agrees to pay the entire payment amount for the bill selected, and authorizes the firm to charge the client’s designated payment method for the payment amount.
- By paying in cash at the offices of the firm, at which time a written receipt will be generated for you
This language clearly states which forms of payment are accepted by your law firm right from the start.
While the engagement of your services creates an assumption that the client intends to compensate your law firm, you can take steps to formerly establish that intention with a promise to pay provision similar to the following:
The client recognizes that, once legal services commence, the client is contractually bound to the lawyer for their entire fee. All fees paid are nonrefundable and must be paid in full. It is further understood and agreed that if client or any third party paying professional fees for client pays such fees through the use of a debit card, credit card, or other electronic means, such payments cannot be revoked or reversed in any manner by the client.
With this provision, it is clear that reimbursement for all services rendered is expected by the law firm, as well as the client. By including this type of language in your engagement letter or retainer agreement, you begin the attorney-client relationship with effective communication.
Stay away from complicated legal language…
Some attorneys use legalese in their billing with the incorrect assumption that it makes them sound more professional to their clients. In reality, this complicated legal language only works to confuse the client and may lead to billing disputes.
Instead, keep it simple. Leave terms like “henceforth” and “stare decises” off of your billing statements. You should even be careful with words like “discovery” and “stipulation” that can have a more nuanced meaning within the legal industry.
Remember that the goal of your invoice is to keep the client informed, so that they will feel compelled to pay your bill quickly and completely. You cannot meet that goal if your clients don’t understand an invoice filled with complicated “legal speak.”
… but don’t undermine your intellectual value
As an attorney, your work is all about experience, intuition and intellect. Unfortunately, clients do not always understand the value of these attributes when reviewing your invoices and the tasks performed for them.
To remedy the disconnect, use billing language that includes dynamic action words to communicate what work has been completed. For example, many lawyers use the word “review” quite often. They review client files and review case precedent. While there is nothing wrong with the word, it does little to describe the real value of what you do for your client. Instead, consider words such as:
These words are much more impactful and better reflect the professional skill you provide to your client. Incorporate these words into your billing templates so staff members aren’t constantly burdened with trying to find the best word choices.
You also want to use words that demonstrate progress in the case. When viewing your law firm’s invoices, you want clients to feel that the case has moved forward over time. When clients see an evolution of progress with every bill, they are incentivized to make payments more quickly and without any dispute.
Think about using phrases such as:
- Developing a trial strategy…
- Building upon evidence…
- Advancing the case strategy…
- Proceeding with efforts to…
- Continuing with negotiations…
- Progressing towards settlement…
- Resulting in the conclusion….
- Improving upon…
When you implement these tips, a generic invoice task description like “Reviewed case file” becomes “Analyzed evidence in order to evaluate factual and legal support for a motion for summary judgment.” See the difference? The second example turns your invoice into an actionable summary of movement on the case.
Here’s another example: “Phone call to opposing counsel” becomes “Conference with Plaintiff’s attorney regarding the potential for early settlement.”
These simple word choices keep clients satisfied when reviewing your firm’s invoices and more willing to quickly pay.