Silence can be very loud

Jack and Suzy Welch, one of their weekly columns for Business Week magazine, respond to the following question (paraphrased): “I’ve recently noticed that new MBAs are passing me by and moving into management in my company. I assume this is because they’re less expensive than experienced workers such as me. Do you see this as a trend?”

Their response was fascinating to me.

Succinctly put, they said “With their silence, your bosses are telling something – and it’s not good.”

Their observation supports my theory that clients failure to pay legal bills is symptomatic and a message to the attorney that, too often, goes unheard. In Collecting Your Fee: Getting Paid from Intake to Invoice,  I suggest that there are five reasons why clients fail to pay their bills:
•    They didn’t get your bill/statement
•    They didn’t understand your billing and/or what you did for them and/or the value to them of what you did for them.
•    They didn’t ask you to do what you billed them for.
•    Their cash flow is temporarily interrupted, despite the best of their intentions to pay you quickly.
•    Their business has gone “south” and they can’t afford to pay you.

The responsibility for the first three reasons belongs on the shoulders of the lawyer. Each of these items can be “fixed” by better communication, starting with the lawyer having more focus on the client intake process and more focus on the firm’s accounts receivable collection efforts.

And, arguably, so does the last two in that the attorney should be more sensitive to the needs and conditions of clients. If there is that awareness (I know, it takes effort), you will not do more work when the client can’t afford to pay (and thus, keep what is owed to you to a minimum) and you just might be able to help the client stay away from the trouble that caused the client’s cash flow interruption.

Taking a holistic and complete approach to your client relations will result in more business (revenue) and higher profits for you.


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