How to Write Bills Clients Rush to Pay

By Andrew C. Simpson

If your car mechanic handed you a bill that read “fixed car – $1,000” you’d probably question it, even if the car was running great. You might even drive off and delay paying the bill. Or wait for the mechanic to call to ask about it.

Often we forget that our clients examine our bills in the same manner. We want the mechanic to justify the $1,000: How much for parts? Why did it take so long? A paragraph of explanation goes a long way towards getting the bill paid.

Lawyers are in a more difficult situation. We expect payment regardless of results. Often we’re unable or unwilling to seek payment in advance. And ethical rules may preclude holding the file hostage. It’s important, then, that your invoice helps the client understand the true value of your work.

A lawyer’s invoice should provide a detailed accounting of services rendered. If you bill by the hour, specify the date and amount of time spent and the services provided during that time billed. Describe the services with particularity. If a motion for summary judgment takes 40 hours to draft, never submit a bill that simply lists five entry dates of “Work on motion for summary judgment – 8 hours.” Break it into smaller increments with descriptive detail for each increment. For example, Day 1 might read:

• Reviewed key evidentiary documents and deposition testimony; began drafting statement of facts section of motion for summary judgment – 3.4 hrs

• Drafted “Statement of Uncontested Facts” as required by Local Rule 56.3 – .9 hrs

• Outlined argument – .5 hrs

• Begin draft argument regarding plaintiff’s easement by implication claim – 2.4 hrs

Provide similar detail even if you flat-fee bill, though there’s no need to break it down by date and amount of time. Remember, your bill is also a marketing tool. You want the client to be so pleased to have gotten so much value for the money that he or she returns for later work, or brag to others about the amount of work you did and your reasonable fees.

Here are two more tips. 1) List the time and expenses that you normally write off as “no charge.” I practice insurance defense and many items are considered overhead by insurance companies. I list them at “no charge” on my bill. I’ve had clients call to say they’ve never before received anything free from a lawyer! 2) Email bills as PDFs. I receive some checks within a week rather than the 30 days’ wait with a paper invoice.

Your bottom line? Treat clients the way you want to be treated. Write a bill that you would want to pay, and your clients will pay promptly.

Andrew C. Simpson is a lawyer in Christiansted, U.S. Virgin Islands. Contact him at
or visit www.coralbrief.com.

Copyright 2007

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