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February 06, 2006

When Things Get Fast and Intense, Invoice the Client Twice a Month--But Ask First.

Hopefully, many of the ideas included in this blog benefit both the client and the firm. For me, one overall theme of true client service is this: we can move from "adversarial" (see this blog's first post) one-night-stand relationships many lawyers have with clients to true partnerships with clients by doing things the right way for clients we like. The result is happier clients and more good work. Everybody wins. Here's one that's unusual but effective. I got this idea from my Super Bowl-celebrating Pittsburgh partner Julie McGuire, who does transactional work, and it really seems to work.

If a new or existing client has litigation or a transaction which is particularly intense and time-consuming--especially in the initial stages--depart from your fee agreement or usual practice with that client and temporarily invoice the client every two weeks. Obviously, you should check with the client and get permission; this could be balked at as an administrative burden or misunderstood as an insult if the client isn't on board. But even a gung-ho sophisticated corporate client or GC you've serviced for years--which is accustomed to seeing over and over again monthly bills for day-to-day work in the, say, $3000 to $5000 range--experiences a kind of sticker shock when the bill goes suddenly to $10,000, $20,000 or higher, even if it's only for a short time.

Billing twice a month does two things: (1) keeps the client more attuned in real-time to the actual economic demands of the project (and lets the client plan) and, (2) assuming that the GC or other client rep is seeing work descriptions on bills that show value, effort and the range of things necessary to perform the litigation or deal, the details and intensity of the work are more present-to-mind, better understood and more fully appreciated. In other words, the invoice becomes more of a tool to impart a running report on what you and the client are doing together--and a better picture of your real value to the client on that project.

Posted by JD Hull at February 6, 2006 01:04 PM

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