Legal Practice Management

Webinar Recap: Seven Ways to Avoid Client Fee Disputes

Garth Brown recently joined us to share first-hand knowledge and actionable strategies to help small law firms improve collections and avoid costly fee disputes.

Keeping law firm clients happy is not just providing quality results, but also ensuring that your fees are fair and your billing is professional and transparent from the start.

Expert legal consultant Garth Brown recently joined us for a live webinar to share first-hand knowledge and actionable strategies to help small law firms improve collections and avoid costly fee disputes.

Garth's top seven tips include:

1. Establish your firm as an authority

There are so many choices and options today when people are looking for a lawyer to resolve their problems. So, how do prospective clients make their choice when selecting a law firm? The two most common ways are by referral from a trusted source or searching the internet.

2. Prepare for first-time clients questions

In Garth’s experience, some lawyers will often provide a free quote or a small nominal consultation fee to discuss an overview of the client's situation. Regardless of the particular matter, be mindful that your time is valuable.

Being prepared for the common questions that clients have is key. Examples of first-time questions include:

  • How long have you practised law?
  • Do you have previous experience handling a matter or case similar to mine?
  • How do you negotiate?
  • What are your fee structure and billing process?
  • How long should I expect to retain your service?

3. Pre-Screen new clients

While it pains many lawyers to turn away business, it is important to thoroughly pre-screen new customers to avoid the headaches that come with clients who are not a good fit for your firm.

Setting up a first initial meeting or preliminary report is a good ‘best practice’ to follow.

4. Demonstrate value and define your time

Clients define ‘value’ in many different ways. They are investing their trust in the lawyer’s skill, knowledge, and competence, but also in persistence, understanding, personal and professional qualities. Demonstrating your value, as a lawyer, is to manage the clients' expectations. Unhappy surprises or ‘bill shock’ are the biggest value killer in the business for law firms.

If you want your clients to value your time, return the favour and value theirs. Always be punctual, organised, prepared and professional.

5. Define your scope of work

A detailed scope of work is important because it spells out exactly what's going to happen with their matter and clearly defines your duties as their lawyer. It helps eliminate confusion and nails down specifics. You should include the following:

  • Objectives - what do you want to achieve in the matter?
  • Deliverables - identify the expected outcome.
  • Schedule - important milestones to be reached at every stage of the matter at hand.
  • Payment - address when invoices will be paid, whether weekly, monthly, or once certain timeframes pass and deliverables are accomplished.
  • Acceptance - client sign-off process to close the matter.

6. Provide cost transparency

At the outset of any engagement, lawyers should have an honest conversation with their clients about the potential cost of a particular matter.

The signed fee agreement should also outline any expenses and general overhead cost provisions to cover any additional fees. This puts the client’s mind at rest – minimising ‘bill shock’. Fee agreements benefit both parties, helping lawyers avoid fee disputes and ensuring you maintain your reputation while also giving clients the best insight.

7. Simplify the payment process

It goes without saying that you should have a legal billing system in place that allows clients to make payments easily. Key tips for simplifying the client payment process include:

  • Produce concise and clear invoices
  • Send out invoices in a timely manner
  • Offer multiple payment methods
  • Streamline your invoice payments

About Garth Brown

Garth Brown is a Certified Practicing Conveyancer (CPC) and Degree Qualified Accountant Sydney, who specialises in property law, risk management, quality solutions, trust and service, Sydney NSW. Garth is a Fellow of (AIC) Australian Institute of Conveyancers since 2013 - awarded Conveyancer of the Year 2015 AICNSW.

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Nov 17, 2021