The “D” word preceded by the “S” word is the only way to get billing done.
“Self-Discipline”! I said it, the “D” word preceded by the “S” word. Why do we hyphenate that word anyway? It’s almost as if ‘self’ doesn’t want anything to do with ‘discipline’ so tries to keep distance with the hyphen. Semantic antics aside, many attorneys struggle with the monthly requirements of regular billing. Self-discipline is the best way to overcome irregular billing and keep your practice running smoothly.
What exactly do I mean by regular billing? I mean appropriately billing (and sending those bills) each client for every hour worked and all expenses at the end of every month in which the hours were logged or the expenses were incurred. Good attorneys do not allow hours worked or expenses incurred to carry over to the next month.
I can hear the excuses now. “I’m too busy. You have no idea what my caseload is. Some expenses can’t be tracked in the month they are incurred. My clients won’t pay until the matter is concluded anyway.”
I’m not buying it. Stop deceiving yourself; regular monthly billing doesn’t get done because we don’t discipline ourselves to do it. What can be done about it?
#1 Delegate It. You may be surprised that this is the first option I mention. It seems like the opposite of self-discipline. It’s not. Many of us have to discipline ourselves to delegate because we like to control the outcome – even when it’s not in our best interest. Why keep kicking yourself – If billing is getting you down then stop doing it. You were trained to be an attorney, not a number cruncher. Why allow billing to take the joy away from your work?
If the billing can be delegated at a reasonable cost then do it. Hire a billing company. Why endure the stress, the time commitment, or the hassles of creating invoices, printing them, and stuffing them into envelopes when you can easily log your hours and expenses and send them off. Legal Billing companies are pros at billing your clients – let them carry that burden.
#2 Buy Software. If you can’t bear the cost of delegating your billing then the next best solution is to buy software that makes it easier. Find a time tracking software that has integrated automated billing. Logging your hours and expenses should funnel right into an invoice specifically detailed for that matter and the client you are serving. You will cut the time needed and minimize the hassles of monthly billing once you find software that fits the way you work. Software is only a tool though and so self-discipline rears its ugly head again. We have to make ourselves use the tool.
#3 Last Resort: Do It Yourself. There are a few attorneys that actually like doing their own billing. They love the minutiae of logging hours and tracking expenses. They may even be closet accountants with a penchant for perfectly balanced debits and credits. But for the rest of the world, invoicing is somewhere between a mild irritation and a full-on nervous breakdown. If you can’t delegate the task and your software is only a small help then the only thing left is to find a way to incent yourself for doing it or chastise yourself for not doing it. If you are going to stay in business you have to find a way to get paid on time.
Some suggestions for incentive: These may sound elementary but motivation to do a task you dislike is a tricky thing. Come up with something creative that is a true motivation for you. It has to be something special you wouldn’t do under normal circumstances. Buy something decadent with a percentage of your income every time you send bills out on time. Give yourself a day off to do something amazing. Put money into savings toward a special goal. Give money or time to a charity. Whatever you do make sure it’s a monthly motivation.
Some suggestions for chastisement: Tell your spouse you need to be held accountable. No really – tell your spouse, or your mom, or the person that most makes you recoil at the thought. Accountability is a powerful thing. If it’s your spouse, he or she has a vested interest in your success and at the very least wants to know that you are maintaining an income that will run the household. Maybe a mentor or business partner or legal colleague or financial adviser is better for you. Another suggestion is to make yourself work non-billable overtime hours until the billing is done. If you are an early morning person make yourself do it after hours. If you are a late riser punish yourself by going in the office early to get it done. Get creative with the self-discipline to pressure yourself to maintain a financially healthy practice. Habits will form and billing will become easier the more you do it.
Some practical tips: Set a monthly date for completing the billing. Lock yourself down. Set aside a specific day of the month that your office is closed. No casework, no client visits or calls, no court dates, no research – only billing. Make it clear to clients and colleagues that you are unavailable.
Have a temporary employee come in to help you organize the process. Find someone and hire him or her for one or two days a month to help you with billing. Knowing you have someone arriving on a certain day every month will force you to prepare.
Fine yourself. Give your clients a discount for every month the billing is late. This is drastic and your clients will wonder what in the world they’ve done to deserve such kindness. It won’t take long till you realize that giving away money isn’t a good way to run a law office.
Whatever you end up doing to ensure that billing gets done on time be assured that it will pay off. Once you’ve disciplined yourself to get billing done you’ll start enjoying the benefits of smooth cash flow, less stress, and more time to do what you love.
Bottom Line: Self-discipline in billing is essential for the survival of your law office.