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BILLING & COLLECTIONS

Louisiana firm sets up four sure-pay systems

A Louisiana firm has added a handful of measures to its billing and collections work that, while simple, have generated significant benefit.

There’s a procedure to ensure the client contact information stays accurate, a soft-touch collections process, electronic client billing and paying, and a billing schedule that ensures a steady cash flow throughout the month.

As a result, the clients are satisfied and the firm gets the best possible revenues, says the administrator of the 13-attorney practice.

1 Keeping the contact info updated

The first measure is client information oversight.

The information the firm collects during intake has always gone to the attorneys and the billing department, but now it goes to the secretaries as well.

The reason is that the contact information often changes as a matter moves along. That’s particularly true for insurance clients, because the adjusters change regularly and the firm may or may not hear about it through corporate memos. But the secretaries in charge of the files almost always find out through conversations with the clients.

As soon as the secretaries are notified of a change, they send the administrator and the bookkeeper an e-mail about it so there’s an immediate update on the client information sheet.

The contact information has to be correct for the bills to reach the right person. In addition, when she needs to call a client, the name on file is correct. On insurance matters, she never has to call one adjuster only to hear “I don’t handle that case anymore.”

2 A softer collections letter

Next, the firm has addressed the issue of collecting from the late-paying clients without offending them.

Collection work needs to start at 60 days, because at that point payment starts to get difficult to collect.

What the firm wanted was a collections approach that got the overdue notices out at 60 days and also didn’t offend the clients. No one appreciates a punitive letter, and neither does anybody appreciate the standard form collection letter.

The administrator and the managing partner drew up a soft and very personal 60-day collections letter that goes out with a copy of the original bill.

It doesn’t go out, however, until the managing partner meets with the billing attorney to find out why the bill hasn’t been paid, lest the client has expressed some problem with it or has already made arrangements for later payment.

The letter comes from the partner in charge of the matter and says that in reviewing the billing records “I noticed that there is an outstanding balance on your account.”

It points out that the client’s satisfaction with the firm’s services is important, and that if there are questions about the bill, “be assured I am available to provide clarification or any additional information you may require.”

It invites the client to call and gives the partner’s direct phone number.

And it ends not with “pay up or else” but with “it is my sincere hope that you are completely satisfied with the service provided for you and will avail yourself of our expertise again in the future.”

The letter is effective, the administrator says. About 75 percent of the time there’s immediate full payment.

The firm finds that the softer approach is essential, because often a bill has just slipped through the cracks by being sent to the wrong person or getting mislaid in the client’s bookkeeping department.

Also essential is the invitation to call the partner personally, because it gets client questions answered and addresses whatever payment problems the client might have. If clients are having problems with their own cash flow, the letter makes it easy for them to approach the firm about setting up payment plans.

3 E-billing and e-paying

Yet another change is that the firm now sends bills electronically and thereby saves postage and printing as well as the staff time ordinarily required to get them out.

It introduced that to clients by enclosing a letter with the bills saying it would like to start sending e- bills to help the client out and ensure things arrived in a timely manner. Included was a form for the client to fill out showing the name and e-mail address of the person to whom it should be sent.

And along with that was a second sheet offering yet another option. It asked if the client wanted to pay via direct deposit. Some clients like doing that, the administrator says, and that means money gets deposited to the firm’s account immediately.

The bill is sent in a secure e-mail, and the client sends back verification that it has been received.

4 Timing an even cash flow

Finally, the administrator has set up a system of staggered billing to even out the cash flow.

When all the bills went out at the same time there was a single large influx of cash each month followed by a period when cash was short.

So she focused on two attorneys who have the highest billings and whose clients pay as soon as they receive their invoices, and she set their billing times two weeks apart so the major portions of the cash come in twice a month. That ensures the bills and payroll are always covered.

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