Billing – Remove the Pain and Make More Money. It’s not difficult!

The word “Billing” tends to strike dread in the hearts of lawyers who view it as a necessary evil.  Other professions view it as an opportunity to convey value and strengthen client relationships.  Sounds easy?  Well, actually it is if we adopt established Best Practices.  David Ellis, a former billing Partner at PwC for 10 years, shares some insights into successful and painless billing.

Firstly, let’s be frank about the comparisons with other professional services providers like the big 4.  Lawyers tend to write off 20% of time on the tab before raising the bill. They bill on average 3 months - and more - after the start of a matter (and frequently, only at the end of a matter). They  regularly have uncomfortable discussions with clients about the final bill and end up writing off further amounts.   The big 4 just don’t operate like that at all.

Why?  Largely because they have adopted well established Best Practices to their Billing Disciplines.

And while we are at it, let’s get rid of a one urban myth.  Yes, our work is uncertain – we don’t know exactly what will happen during a matter.  However that is no different from these firms.  Far more importantly, it is no different from our clients!

So what are these Best Practices that make Billing easier and improve collections?  Here are 5 unerring Must Do’s

1.       Tell the Client how and when you are going to Bill.  State it clearly in the Engagement - and then do it!!  This sets expectations, is professional and gets you on the front foot.

2.     Set a Budget for the job and manage to it.  Budgeting Pricing.  Set your colleagues a time / value budget and manage to it.  This is how our clients operate their projects and they expect us to do so too.  Yes, things change during a matter but we can also adjust our approach too (often in agreement with the client). So manage the client too.

3.       Bill Monthly. Review WIP and bill the client.  Again, this sets expectations, shows them we are operating professionally and alerts them (and us!) to and changes.  Not least it improves cashflow for the firm – and worth remembering at appraisal time!  Variations to this principle include stage payments, milestone billing and so on.  But don’t wait until the end!

4.       Talk to the Client about the Bill.   Yes, it sounds obvious but we generally shy away from it.  Ironically, it is invariably on the mind of the client.  Ideally a simple comment of “we are on time and on budget” is enough (and we should be if we have followed the above Best Practices J)

5.       Let your Finance department take the strain.  The lawyer’s role in the billing cycle is to review and make decisions.  It is Finance’s role to execute those decisions.  So let the finance professionals prepare, adjust, issue, and collect the bills.  They should also deal with first line queries and chasing of payment.  That is their skill after all!

Do all of this and you will have happier clients and an easier and more lucrative life.  Told you it was easy.

p.s. (There’s a sixth Best Practice too.  Bill Fixed Prices.  Don’t hourly bill.  No other professional service does it, clients don’t do it, it is grossly time consuming to review (pun intended), and focuses on inputs not outputs.  Time to join the 21st century)

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Legal Project Management: what do clients really expect?

Our Legal Project Management (LPM) course helps lawyers apply best practice principles of project management to the effective delivery of legal services. This new course has been developed and delivered in conjunction with OMC Partners, specialists in legal operational efficiency, and is a must for all those grappling with the challenges of meeting client expectations and winning more work.

Why LPM?

In an era where margins are continually under pressure, and clients demand increasingly sophisticated service levels and greater cost certainty, strong project management skills are essential for any modern lawyer. Law firms have much to learn from the likes of the Big 4 accounting firms, leading consultants such as McKinsey and Accenture, and other professionals who have successfully applied project management approaches to great effect for decades.

LPM does more than just help lawyers to manage their work productively and profitably. LPM ensures they understand and meet their clients’ objectives, deliver engagements on time and to budget, and communicate the value of the services provided. Done well, clients will keep coming back for more!

Who is the course for?

This course helps lawyers from all disciplines deliver services using a consistent methodology that captures all the benefits of LPM Best Practice. There are 4 modules covering:

1. Understanding what your clients want

2. Planning work

3. Working the plan

4. Delivering value

Free Briefing sessions

To help lawyers and law firm managers understand exactly what this course entails and the business benefits to be derived, we are running several Legal Project Management Briefings throughout the UK over the coming weeks. To book a place, please contact

LEEDS 27th July 2017, 8.00-9.30am @ Leeds University Business School

MANCHESTER 28th September 2017, 5.00-6.30pm @ Berwin Leighton Paisner

BRISTOL 4th October 2017, 12.30-2.00pm @ RPC

LONDON 12th October 2017, 5.00-6.30pm @ Berwin Leighton Paisner

BIRMINGHAM 2nd November 2017, 5.00-6.30pm @ Shakespeare Martineau

Related blogs on the topic of LPM

Better Engagement Letters by Peter Kinch

Don't just do a "job" well - meet your client's business needs by Matthew Peacock

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Happy Easter everyone!

Image of easter bunny

The 'super exam' just got a step closer

The Legal Services Board has just approved the SRA's application to amend its arrangements for authorisation. This is the first step towards introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).

The SRA needs LSB approval for further rule changes before it can launch the new route to qualifying as a solicitor. It is likely that the SRA will apply for this in 2019.

The objective of the change is to reduce the cost of qualification and open up access to the profession. The SRA are proposing a two-part centrally set exam, rather than individual educational institutions setting their own exams.

To find out more about the proposed changes, take a look at these links:

Education and training: Testing time - Law Society Gazette

Legal Services Board News


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Kinch Robinson team up with Parklane Plowden Chambers for new EL/PL e-learning course

We're delighted to have teamed up with barristers from Parklane Plowden Chambers for our latest e-learning project. Following the success of our RTA liability e-learning course, we've developed a unique and exciting range of animations involving 'slip and trip' accidents.

Using online animated accident scenarios, our e-learning course trains staff on how to assess liability in EL/PL claims. It examines the law of negligence relating to this accident type; explores what evidence is needed to prove your case (and how to deal with conflicting evidence) and looks at relevant case law. Each accident scenario concludes with a barrister giving their view on the case and what the likely outcome would be if the case proceeded to a final hearing.

"With profitability in this sector constantly being squeezed, it’s essential for case handlers to have a firm grip on liability issues from the outset” says Director, Kath Kinch. “This new e-learning course helps organisations to grow the confidence of their staff, as well as their profits margins.”

Parklane Plowden’s Practice Director, Michael Stubbs, said, “Developing new ways of supporting our clients meant that it was an easy ‘yes’ to us getting involved in this project. We’re delighted with the result…with users getting a realistic take from our barristers (via video) on how each case should be handled from an evidential and practical perspective, plus a steer towards relevant case law and legislation.”

Promotional video

Training demo

ELPL learning image
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Communicating with clients about progress

Lawyers interested in getting things done, and done right, should read Atul Gawande’s “The Checklist Manifesto”. Borne out of his experience as a surgeon, and discussions with practitioners in the airline and construction sectors, he offers helpful ideas for any professional besieged by problems and complications in their work.

One of those ideas is the “submittal schedule” used during the redevelopment of the Russia Wharf in Boston. Where you’ve got different specialists working on the same building project, you want to make sure they communicate with each other. Putting it bluntly, if no-one talks, the building might fall down. So the submittal schedule helps to manage the process of circulating technical information and getting it approved. It’s not a checklist for work on the building, it’s a checklist for communications and reporting and it helps people to ensure that things get done at the right time and in the right sequence.

Let’s take that idea - a checklist for communications- and apply it to the client expecting a progress report on a legal matter.

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So the client wants to know what we’ve done so far, and more importantly what we’ve achieved. And the client wants to know if we are on track, and what’s coming next, and if we’re not on track, the client wants to know why not, and how we’ll get back on track.

All of which is fair enough. Hand-on-heart now, would a communications checklist help you to answer the client’s questions at an agreed time and in a comprehensive and accurate way? Would it help you to communicate better with your colleagues and update other project professionals?

But, yes, I know. You don’t like that word checklist, do you?

Let me put it another way.

Would a structured agenda help you to communicate, report and pre-empt the client’s and the project team’s questions comprehensively and accurately?

Of course it would. And it would help you:

  • to impress clients by being methodical;
  • to demonstrate control by spotting problems early; and
  • to be responsive by adjusting the project plan when instructions change.

We lawyers intuitively recognise the value of a good precedent. We know that the submittal schedule is a great example of a proven project management approach – if you don’t believe me, ask your construction clients. So why not borrow and adapt the idea and use a structured agenda to make ourselves look good with our clients? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

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