Denver Bar Association
February 2002
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More Bang For Your Bill

by Trey Ryder


11 Ways to turn billing policies into a competitive advantage.

by Trey Ryder

© Copyright 2002 by Trey Ryder LLC. All rights reserved.

Whether someone hires your services, hinges on the value/price equation, which says: A prospective client will hire your services as long as he believes that the value he receives from you is (1) greater than the price he pays, and (2) greater than the value he would receive from another lawyer for the same price.

Value is not a fact; it’s a perception. If your client thinks he’s getting value from you, he is. If he thinks he isn’t, he isn’t. Truth and fact have nothing to do with value. It’s all in your client’s mind.

For some clients, opening your invoice is akin to a near-death experience. As your client opens the envelope, he replays in his head all the things you have done for him during the latest billing period. As he nears the final number, he asks himself, "Is the amount I benefitted from my lawyer more or less than the amount I owe?"

You always want your client to feel that the value he receives from you is greater than the price he pays. Part of how your client perceives your value—and responds to your invoice—is based on how you bill.

Here are 11 ways to turn your billing policies into a competitive advantage:

1. When possible, offer your client his choice of fee and billing options. Clients are usually happier when they have taken part in this decision.

2. Show your client what your fee could be under the various methods you offer. Then help your client see which method benefits him most.

3. Provide a detailed description of the services you performed by each entry on your invoice. The more detail you offer, the more credibility your invoice has.

4. Don’t charge for everything you do. Your client really likes to see N.C.s (no charge) on your invoice. Whatever task you performed, the N.C. helps balance the figures that appear for the more time-consuming services.

5. Bill for in-office incidentals only when your client exceeds his monthly allowance. Charging clients for what they believe is routine office overhead always results in bad feelings. If you ordinarily charge for incidentals, try this instead: Set a monthly overhead allowance for each client based on the amount of fees you expect to collect from that client. This allows you to absorb routine overhead up to the maximum you set, without having to foot the bill for excessive costs.

6. Bill for rapid delivery only when the fast service is at your client’s request and not the result of your tardiness.

7. Bill outside services at their actual cost. I started this years ago, and clients regularly mention how much they appreciate it. I tell clients that when they hire me they have full access to my suppliers and business contacts at my cost.

8. Proofread every bill. Clients expect that you prepare your invoice with the same care and attention that you use to perform legal services. A mistake on your invoice arouses suspicion that you might also make mistakes in their documents.

9. Always discuss fees and charges in advance before prospects hire you. Show every prospect that you want to be up-front about fees and how you bill. If you find something about your invoice or billing method that clients don’t like or don’t understand, change it so clients see how your billing practices work to their benefit.

10. Always discuss potential problems in advance. If something unforeseen happens—or causes an unexpected increase in your client’s bill—call and explain it to your client. If you can offer your client different ways of handling the matter, make that clear as well.

11. Invite questions about your invoices. Make sure prospects and clients know that you are eager to explain anything on an invoice they don’t understand. Admit that you might make a mistake and that you welcome the opportunity to review any invoice that raises a question.

You can gain a competitive edge over other lawyers by (1) calculating fees and charges in ways that favor your clients, and (2) discussing those methods openly and in advance. Lawyers who discuss fees and explain how they charge add value to their services and seize yet another major competitive advantage.

Trey Ryder is a law-firm consultant who specializes in education-based marketing for attorneys. He offers lawyers three free articles: "Nine Smart Ways to Cut Marketing Costs and Improve Results," "17 Fatal Marketing Mistakes Lawyers Make," and "13 Marketing Misconceptions That Cost Lawyers a Fortune." For your free copies, send your name and e- mail address to and ask for his free e-mail packet of articles.

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