No one likes to receive an invoice, especially an invoice from a lawyer. But you can make it less painful if you consider the process from the point of view of your clients. Your invoice can be a tool to demonstrate that you deliver on the promises you make. They can help you to build trust.
Preparing the client
The first step to writing good invoices occurs before you begin doing any work for the client. During the initial consultation with the client, establish what the client values and what they expect to accomplish and what services you will provide during the engagement. These values and expectations should be confirmed and reinforced throughout your representation, especially when you are requesting payment. This information can be invaluable in helping you to write good client invoices.
If unanticipated services arise, discuss them with the client before you send them an additional invoice. Clients do not like surprises.
Writing good client invoices is all about establishing and reinforcing the value of the services you provide for clients, rather than focusing solely on how much work you do for the client. The old days of sending invoices “for services rendered” followed by a total sum owed are long gone. Your invoices should clearly and effectively communicate what was done (or will be done), by whom and why, along with the corresponding fee charged.
The client must understand why your services are important to them– from their perspective, not yours. An invoice that communicates how the items on your invoice benefit the client or advance the client’s main objectives is an invoice clients will want to pay. Refer back to the client’s stated objectives and show how each activity advances the client’s goals.
Your invoices should be written in layman’s terms, not in legal jargon. If the client cannot understand your invoice, they will not want to pay it. Someone who is not familiar with the client or the case should be able to tell exactly what is happening on the file just by reading the invoice.
Invoices should be consistent. If you use one term to describe a service, use that same term throughout that invoice and on all subsequent invoices to avoid confusion.
If you decide to give a client a discount or offer some services free of charge, be sure to tell the client what the ‘regular’ fee for that service would be. Document all work performed for the client and why, even if you decide not to charge the client for some work.
Even if you receive payment up front, document your services and the status of the retainer fee for the client; do not wait until retainer is exhausted to communicate that additional payment is needed.
Your invoice should clearly indicate when payment is due, whether there is any outstanding previous balance, whether there is a remaining balance on the retainer, and how payment can be made. Include your contact information on every invoice, along with the name of the person the client can contact regarding invoicing questions or discrepancies.