Keep the Cash Flowing: Collection Tips

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

A reader’s question: Do you have any tips on how to get clients to pay their bills more promptly?

Response: Cash flow is important to the success of every business, yet many lawyers do not design their practice to assure that collections flow in smoothly and regularly. The measures appropriate for your firm may depend upon the size of your clients, the type of clients you serve, and the types of matters you handle for them.

As you read through the suggestions below, think about how you might experiment with some of them or adapt them to your needs. Some may be new ideas for you, and others may be familiar ones that you have just gotten out of the habit of doing.

1. Get a retainer in advance. Hold a retainer equal to one month’s fees in trust until application against the final invoice. Invoice the client each month for the current work. If the client has not paid the first invoice by the time you are sending out the second invoice, notify the client that work will be suspended until the account is brought up to date. Certain practice areas tend to attract a high level of clients with poor payment patterns. Practitioners may want to charge the entire fee up front for such services, or provide in the engagement agreement that the initial fee installment applies to the first stage of the engagement. Provide that the engagement will be put on hold or terminated until the fee for each next stage is paid in advance.
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