Friday, June 13, 2008

Show me the money

I don't know why but I still find it a bit mind boggling when the amount I bill in a single day is a little over half the monthly salary.

Perhaps it's still the dormant lay man that remains confounded by the concept that one can and does bill clients a seemingly obscene amount of money for a single day's work (though when actually doing the work, it doesn't seem so obscene). Or perhaps the startled employee that uses his salary as a general yardstick and remains just a little disturbed that technically speaking, his entire month's salary can be accounted for with two days of work. Or perhaps both.

Billing is all nice and dandy but as any lawyer worth his bill salt knows, what really matters is getting your clients to pay the bill on time and with minimal hassle. After all $1,000 on hand is a whole lot better than $10,000 in a bill which client (or rather the soon-to-be erstwhile client) simply refuses to pay.

Which is why when the time comes to bill (and the modus operandi is to bill often and progressively rather than hit the client with a huge chunk at the end and face the prospect of him/her running off without paying a cent) my personal observation and experience is that corporate clients tend to be more compliant, paying the bills on time, less likely to press for discounts and often promptly provide further requested sums for anticipated work to be done.

Individuals, by and far, tend to be more problematic when it comes to bills. Which in a way is understandable because an individual (assuming they're not the dirt rich and/or principled ones) feels the pinch of having to foot the bills more keenly than say a corporate entity which is faceless and arguably has a greater capacity to pay. But understanding where they might be coming from doesn't make the job of asking for moola any easier or less necessary.

In fact, the converse is usually true. Because you know there is a chance that Mr so and so won't pay either because 1) he indicates to you that he wants a discount or 2) wants a lot of work to be done but hems and haws when it comes to footing the bill, it becomes all the more imperative that you call the bugger and bludgeon him into paying the said bill.

Which is one reason why asking clients to pay the bill for matrimonial matters can often be a tedious, draggy affair that ranges from gentle cajoling to outright pay-or-we-discharge now over the phone, correspondence etc. Thankfully, with the exception of a few particularly nasty cases, the 'pay or discharge' cases tend to be few and far between.

And for matrimonial cases, clients usually want an inordinate amount of correspondences, meetings, telephone conversations, urgent applications to prevent spouse from bashing them/running off with the kids/threatening to set the flat on fire, etc etc. And when the time comes to pay, they (some not all, thank god) whine and snivel over the phone, ( But why so expensive huh? Only divorce ma. Yes ma'am only divorce and your 58273281 pages of correspondence), ask for discounts, try to reduce the further deposit sum and haggle over things like 'Er, next hearing how much? Maybe you pass me the documents you want to use, i go out and photocopy.' Add the inherent emotional undercurrents that are ever present in matri cases to the concoction and the outcome can be singularly unpleasant.

So sometimes you talk very nicely, in firm, measured tones and sometimes you scream at them. Haven't had to opt for the latter yet, though a number were certainly told off in no uncertain terms that a price had to be paid for proper legal advice and service, a price that was fixed and agreed from the onset, certainly not to be haggled over the phone like a housewife buying fish at the local wet market.

Billing, unpleasant perhaps but wholly necessary. I mean come on la, think about it this way if it helps you, we're providing a service, you pay for the service, the said sum from the bill isn't pocketed by the Associate whom you may be haggling with over the bill. At the end of the day, it's a job. So if you like/desire/demand good and prompt service, you should be prepared to/jolly well pay the said bill on time.

Then your lawyer will spend more time doing your work and less time trying to elicit some moola from you for work done on your file. And of course we won't need to have to bill you for the time we spent on the phone with you while you bargained/raged/screamed at him/her for a bill we are expected and required to issue to you. Chew on that ya?

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