Attorney malpractice claims coming from poor billing practices continue to be one of the highest frequency claim causes. Whether the client was upset with the service, did not have the money, poor communication or just mad at the world, claims resulting from attorney fee issues are not slowing down.
A recent article from Law Practice Today addresses steps attorneys can take to improve their billing practices. The 12 tips are:
1. Contemporary time keeping—Bill as you go, keep track of your hours worked while you are working for the client, not trying to remember after the fact.
2. Review your hourly rates once a year and determine whether the rates should change—The cost of practicing law continues to go up. You need to bill accordingly.
3. When changing your rates, offer clients the opportunity to “buy” hours in advance—Communicate in advance to current clients upcoming rate increases.
4. Consider whether you should charge for internal expenses and how—Figure out your true cost of practicing law and determine whether to breakout or charge as part of your fee costs for coping, faxing, postage, printing, etc.
5. Determine if the types of work you do justify multiple hourly rates—Determine if you should charge difference amounts for different areas of practice.
6. Your bill is the most important piece of paper sent to your client—Communicate at least monthly the charges you are accruing for clients.
7. Data mine your files and bills to identify types of matters that are candidates for alternative billing methods—Determine is different areas of practice should have different fee arrangements. Fix fees for drawing up a will versus an hourly rate for handling a criminal matter.
8. Consider alternative fee arrangements for matters that are suitable or where clients have asked for it—Make sure the fees fit the services that you should deliver for this client.
9. Look at substantive systems and use alternative fees—Use computer software to help generate repetitive work such as corporate minutes.
10. Establish a retainer policy for all new clients, some (or all) existing clients and particularly for all litigation matters—Make sure to always get money up front.
11. Consider evergreen retainers—When the work spans months even years collect an upfront retainer for the work coming up for the next month and adjust after to the true number.
12. Written fee agreements for each engagement—even for existing clients—Fee agreements and engagement letters are the best prevention for future attorney malpractice claims.
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