Heated discussion on Lawyerist.com about sending effective bills. Couldn’t help but add my two cents worth here.
Most attorney bills, with their point-somethings and cryptic billing program-generated phrases, are horror stories that stress clients out and invite challenges. ”3.2 – conference call with opposing counsel. 1.4 research and writing of response. .5 – client telephone discussion.” It’s enough to make them crazy – and often does.
When a client opens your bill, they want to know two basic things: what did you accomplish for me this month, and how much are you charging for it? The bare bill, even one with a nice cover letter, doesn’t really tell that.
The solution is a “progress report.” Grab the detail bill and translate it into client language. “In August we made significant progress toward an agreement. We had several positive discussions with opposing counsel and have resolved some key issues…”
Let them know what you actually did for them. Not the process and the time it all took – but how you’re moving their matter toward resolution. Then, instead of the laundry list of point-somethings, give them a simple summary bill. Attorney hours 12.3, paralegal hours 8.2, miscellaneous charges $147.50, with a “total charges for month” line below. And at the bottom, “detail billing on request.” Unless your client is a sophisticated user of legal services, few will ever ask for the detail, because you actually answered their real questions: “what did you do for me this month, and how much do I owe?”
If your client is sophisticated you still send the detail. But the “progress report” is always a powerful idea that will help you maintain more positive client relationships – and get you paid more quickly.