Billing

Client fees are collected through bills for legal services. These bills are generated according to the style and format preferred by the law firm. Although the format of the billing may change from law firm to law firm and even from client to client, virtually all legal billing is itemized. That is, the information from the time record about what legal service was performed is reflected on the bill together with the charge for that service. If the time record fails to adequately describe the legal service, the client may not pay.

The frequency of client billing varies from matter to matter and from client to client. Some matters are billed only when the legal work is complete. In other cases, the client might request periodic billing at six-month intervals. The billing frequency for each client matter should be recorded in the file information.

Ethical restrictions prevent paralegals from setting fees with a client and from billing clients directly. For this reason, paralegals are seldom directly involved in the billing process. Nevertheless, all paralegals should be generally familiar with the process for two reasons. First, client satisfaction with the legal services provided is directly tied to the amount of the bill. A paralegal can do a great deal to diffuse client complaints by making sure the client is informed of the progress of the legal matter and the reasons for all significant activity. Second, a paralegal who understands the billing process will not be an impediment to timely billing because of inadequate descriptions of legal services or failure to submit time sheets.

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In some legal matters, the law firm may incur expenses related to the representation of the client. These costs, or disbursements, may be billed to the client if they are directly related to the client's matter. For example, a client is expected to reimburse the law firm for court filing fees paid on the client's behalf. A client is not expected to pay for costs that are merely overhead, such as paper usage.

An ordinary billing process begins with the preparation of a draft bill. This is a compilation of the time records and disbursements showing the time spent by each timekeeper, the charges for that timekeeper, and any expenses paid by the law firm. The supervising attorney reviews the draft bill for errors and to determine if adjustments are necessary. These adjustments are made so that the bill will accurately reflect the value of the legal services provided.

Once the draft bill is finalized, it is sent to the client. Most law firms track unpaid bills by the length of time the bill remains unpaid. If the client does not pay in a timely fashion, the law firm may consider terminating its relationship with that client.

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