Attorneys: Guilty of Feeling Guilty.

Attorneys are the professionals I’ve found to be most prone to “invoicing guilt”. It’s a term I use to describe the feeling attorneys get when they are about to send an invoice to a client, especially a good client who may balk at the amount.

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It’s a tragic feeling. The attorney has worked hard for the client regardless of the outcome. He or she has diligently clocked hours, prepared documents, advised strategy, and drawn on the hard-won but substantial experience and expertise of the profession. But when it comes to putting it all down to dollars – the guilt – that certain nervousness of invoicing – sets in.

How can an attorney overcome “invoicing guilt”, assuming he or she is charging fees that are in line with the value received? Here are some bullet points you will want to keep handy the next time you muster enough courage to send out those monthly invoices.

Remind Yourself:  Remind yourself of the years you invested learning your craft. A very small percentage of people will ever accomplish what you did. You stuck it out through years of tedious classes in law school. You busted your butt and pounded law theory, case law, and encyclopedic terminology into your brain to pass the bar. You paid your dues as an intern and a rookie attorney. And for this client you exercised due diligence, worked the hours, dug out the facts, scrutinized documents, and did the little extras to ensure a good outcome. YOU EARNED YOUR PAY starting at the moment you stepped into your first class at law school and continuing till the very moment you started feeling guilty about billing your client.

Ask Yourself: Ask yourself, “How would I react?” if I received my invoice from a professional who can do things for me that I could never do for myself? Would I moan and groan about the amount or would I gladly pay for the expertise brought to bear to solve my problem (If you would moan and groan then read #1 and apply). 

If you say, “I would want to know exactly what I was being charged for.” Then make sure you are doing the same for your clients. Clients want to know in plain English, not legalese, what they are paying for. Simplify your billing to reduce the likelihood of your clients disputing the charges. HINT: Another good way to reduce disputes is to create and communicate clear financial policy and provide a detailed projection of how much work you are likely to do for the matter you are about to work on. If your projection proves wrong on the high side then inform the client as soon as you discover that the matter is going to cost more. Explain the reasons why. Your clients will appreciate your integrity and you’ll avoid surprising them with unexpected costs.

Defend Yourself: Defend your fees by educating your clients of the value they are receiving. This defense of value begins long before you have an outcome as we discussed in our first two points. Defending value starts with upfront financial conversations discussing the matter, what it is likely to involve, and costs. Proper set-up is necessary to minimize client pushback.

Defending your fees is much easier when you’ve done all the preliminary steps to educate and prepare your clients. Once you’ve set the stage, informed the client of any significant changes along the way, clearly represented the fees in your invoicing, and invoiced on time you’ve done what is necessary to minimize disputes; you can bill without guilt! If disputes arise at this point then be ready to defend your fees in a respectful way. If, in the end, you have to compromise with a discount of your fees to keep you client happy, it will most likely be with a smaller discount than what you were going to take when you were feeling guilty.

The bottom line: Bill with confidence and clarity. You are worth every penny!