You’ve heard it from me and others; the key to satisfied clients is managing client expectations. And fees are perhaps the single client service area where lawyers fall short the most when managing expectations.
Failure to manage fee expectations will not only lead to an unhappy client, it could also subject you to possible discipline. Remember, Rule 1.5 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct (Fees and Division of Fees), states in relevant part:
A lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an unreasonable fee
or an unreasonable amount for expenses.
Follow these ethical billing practices to keep your clients satisfied and the regulators away.
Many lawyers could do a better job with respect to fees when keeping track of time. Software available on computers and smartphones makes it as easy as ever. Even the old-fashioned pen and paper still work as good today as they did 50 years ago.
Perhaps the most important thing here is to avoid falling into the trap of tracking time after the fact. You know what I mean… You spend the morning working on multiple files. Then you take a few minutes to recreate your morning and divvy up your time spent across those files. Or, even worse, you let everything pile up across entire weeks or even a month! (I know some of you are out there.)
Your memory is obviously not that accurate. And there is no reason to assume that “it will all even out.” Someone is being cheated; either you or the client. One is just as bad as the other.
If you worked, you deserve to be paid. If you didn’t work, you don’t deserve to be paid.
Nowadays, there are so many ways to submit bills to and receive payment from clients. Don’t do it the way that is easiest for you. Instead, do it in the way your clients prefer. Listen and follow their instructions. For those few clients who won’t have any preferences, feel free to fall back on your own.
I know this sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many lawyers don’t do review their bills at all or do it very superficially.
Mistakes happen. If clients perceive you as sloppy with your billing, how do you think they’ll perceive how you are when practicing law?
Managing client expectations means paying attention to the details of all aspects of your practice, especially billing. Keep your clients happy by setting expectations properly up front and following through on a consistent, accurate basis throughout the client relationship.