An often overlooked ingredient of a successful attorney-client relationship is an effective billing protocol. Billing, whether in the form of an invoice, statement, or other notice, should not be seen solely as a means of charging your clients for legal services but also should be viewed as an additional vehicle to communicate with clients about the status of their case. The better—and more consistently—clients are informed about the status of their case, the greater their appreciation of the work you’re performing on their behalf. By conveying progress you have achieved so far, a substantive billing document tends to justify the costs of legal services rendered to achieve this progress.
The automated bills generated by popular case management applications frequently use abbreviated codes for legal activities such as office conferences, hearings, and document drafting. Although these coded abbreviations are typically accompanied by concise explanatory phrases, they likely are still too confusing for clients to truly comprehend. Just put yourself in your clients’ shoes—when you receive a medical bill, how much of it do you really understand? Accordingly, you should augment your case management application’s automated billing statements or, better yet, develop your own customized, readily understandable, client-friendly billing format.
Your bills should contain a section itemizing each task or activity performed, including date, amount of time expended (preferably in fractional hourly format, e.g., 0.25, 1.25, 0.4), and a clear and concise phrase or clause elucidating—in plain English—what work was done, what issues were addressed, and whether these issues were resolved or are still pending. Your bills should also contain another section enumerating costs and fees associated with particular tasks or activities, such as court costs, petition fees, tolls and mileage costs, federal fees for filing patent or copyright applications, Internal Revenue Service fees, etc. To facilitate client reimbursements, receipts for payment of such government fees and costs should be attached to your bills, as appropriate.
Of course, as with virtually any form of attorney communication to clients, your invoices or billing statements should include appropriate disclaimers of confidentiality and/or attorney-client privilege. And if you’re sending these bills electronically, they should be protected via encryption.
Your clients will appreciate routinely receiving case status reports and progress recaps integrated into regular billing. And remember: Clients are more likely to pay promptly for legal services if they actually understand what they are paying for.