If only having your bills paid was as easy as collecting rent for Park Place. Unfortunately, when clients do not make timely payments, or simply refuse to pay your bill, lawyers are put in the position of possibly having to file suit to collect their fees. However, before you file – and potentially open yourself up to a malpractice claim – consider the following:
- Review your client contract – What does your fee agreement say about handling past due balances? Be sure to follow your contract and cite the agreed upon collection procedures in your follow up demand correspondence to your client. Your letter could prompt payment if your client is reminded of their payment obligations and potential for additional fees incurred if you file suit.
- Conduct a review of the file – Be sure to thoroughly review your file for any potential wrongdoing that could become a counterclaim or grievance. Perhaps have a colleague take an objective review for anything you may have missed.
- Consider whether collectable – Although you undoubtedly worked hard to earn your fee, a judgment against your client on your bill is meaningless if they are unable to pay. Moreover, you may spend more time and money to file a lawsuit, obtain a judgment, and try to collect it.
- Has the statute of limitations passed? – If possible, wait until the statute of limitations for a malpractice claim has passed before suing your client for fees.
How can you avoid a fee dispute in the first place? Be sure to carefully track monthly payments and keep your client advised of the balance before it becomes overwhelming for them. They may not realize how quickly fees may be incurred on an hourly basis. If they are unable to pay your bill in full each month, set up reasonable payment arrangements. This will help your monthly cash flow and provide them with a reasonable time frame for payment. If you anticipate receiving a settlement check for a contingency fee matter, have the check be made payable to you and your client and be sent to your office. Provide your client with a breakdown of the costs and expenses and your fees that they can sign off on and then cut them a check from your trust account. By staying on top of your accounts receivable and following the best practices for collection, you can avoid rolling the dice on whether you are paid – or perhaps even sued.
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