Most of us can notice when something “isn’t right” with our bodies, and we often are quick to jump to a conclusion about the cause.  Yet what we perceive to be the problem, and the reality behind it, may be much different.

A urologist recently shared an example with me, saying that many people come to him to “fix the problem” of an over-active bladder at night.  They typically attribute it to a “plumbing” issue that a pill or even surgery can cure.  Yet this doctor suggested that, as people age, they sleep less and they’re likely to be awakened more easily by sounds that didn’t disturb them in earlier years – a dog barking, the house creaking.  Once they’re awake, they decide to honor the bladder urge so they can go back to sleep. The perception is that there is a physical medical problem.  The real cause is the natural aging process and the best “cure” is to accept it.

Transfer this lesson to a law practice.  Most lawyers are quick to perceive a problem when there is less money coming in the door.  They immediately jump to a conclusion about “the cure” – do more marketing, or raise rates.  The reality is that declining revenue typically began long before as a problem with receivables.  Generating new work to cover declining revenue simply isn’t the answer.  The strategy is to make sure clients know they must pay their bills within 30 days.  And the way to do that is specify clear collection terms in the engagement agreement. Lawyers perceive every client as valuable and hate to cut them loose; the reality is that continuing to do work for overdue clients who don’t pay shows those clients are not worth keeping.

A new study by George Washington Law School showed that realization rates (the amount of money billed that is collected) average 83.6 percent for all law firms, a figure that is a historic low.  If you perceive your revenue is down, and the reality is that you only collect 80 cents on the dollar, you’re like the urologist’s patients – you won’t get many good nights of sleep.