Invoices are formatted to be efficient. They are “get in and get out” documents, so to speak.
Even so, when the goal is efficiency, specificity should not fall to the wayside, and that’s what some practices are letting happen with their invoices.
We’ve spoken to clients who were disappointed to receive vague, ambiguous invoices. Their attorneys hardly explained the hourly services they charged for.
At SimpleLaw, we’re committed to transparent, up-front communication. The goal is for attorneys to deliver succinct and self-explanatory, timely invoices for their clients. We encourage attorneys to be thoughtful about the contents of their invoices and give them the room they need to be specific in their descriptions.
Read below for some tips and tricks on writing detailed line items that convey your work, satisfy your clients, and waste nobodies time.
Your Invoices Are Different Invoices
When your client receives an invoice from your practice, it is a different experience from when they receive one from a vendor.
This is because what you are billing them is not as perceptible. A party supplies vendor’s invoice is more perceptible because it includes a list of products (tables, chairs, decor, and accessories) that people received and used. Customers can easily recall those products because they experienced them in person.
As an attorney, you are billing your clients for services. There is no tangible product. They may not fully understand because they are not attorneys. Even if you use SimpleLaw, which gives clients direct 24/7 access to their cases, you are still serving your clients from a distance, in your office, while they go about their business as well, trusting your qualifications.
We propose a new approach to invoices: When you craft an invoice for a client, think of it as an opportunity to specifically, but succinctly, communicate what you have done for them. And try to make it easy to understand. Legal jargon is part of the practice and really does deliver great meaning, however, make sure a non-legal professional can understand. With comprehensive invoices like those, your clients will know you’ve been working hard for them.
How do you execute this, though?
The Date, the Task, the Time, and the Description
Most invoices provide a column of oblong boxes to the left of the “Amount” column in which you list the services you’re billing for. This column of boxes often has the heading “Description.”
To better communicate with your clients through your invoices, we encourage you to use this “Description” space as more than a “Description” space--and to make what you describe in that column worthy of the word “Description.”
This can be accomplished through a Date, Task, Time, and Description formula for line item writing. It will provide the right amount of information your clients should receive in the invoices you send them.
Be specific here. Don't group dates. Describe each work occurrence, even if it's on the same day. Don't group your weeks as in “3/28/19 - 4/1/2019” or as a list of various dates: “3/25, 3/27, 4/1.” Specify each specific date.
In this part of the line item, you should name the specific type of work you conducted for your client. Like products from a vendor, you explain the 'product' in the invoice. Think about the difference between 'Paper Plates' and 'Happy Anniversary Sturdy 1/8 in. thick strong plates'. The more description, the better. Because we all know the difference between a 'Paper Plate' and a 'Sturdy 1/8inc think Strong Plate'.
You should then follow the Task with the Time spent on the Task. You can present this measure in the line item in terms of the time in the day (or days) dedicated to the task: 9:15 am - 1:30 pm; or as a summation of the hours spent on that task: 4:12:48 hours.
Since SimpleLaw possesses a time-tracking feature within its platform, and since there are free time-tracking software tools available, it should be easy to present the time spent. This detail also empowers your clients to double-check that the fees you’ve charged them are correct.
When you work with clients, there is a learning curve, and it’s a predominantly steep one. Part of your quality of care for your clients, which you can read about in our Quality of Care and the Law post, involves being able to communicate the law to them through accessible language.
When you describe the Task you are charging for, you should write what the achieved objective of that Task was in 15 words or less. What did you accomplish for your client? What did your client gain from your time and your skills here?
Repurposing your line items toward the needs of your clients will bolster your relationship with them.
Systematizing Line Item Writing
In order to effectively implement line item writing for your invoices, you’ll want to review how and when you produce your invoices.
We encourage you to be active in recording your work. That is, sitting down and recalling details from memory isn't a great approach. Not only is this stressful, it is bound to be less comprehensive and precise than it should be, resulting in under-billing the client.
Instead, we recommend that you make it your practice to record the Date, Task, Time, and Description of each billable and non-billable case-related Task when you complete it. These details can be stored in the description space of your time-tracking feature on SimpleLaw.
If you follow this practice, all of the details your clients will need and want from your invoices will be ready for you. And with the full details, clients will feel more confident in you, their attorney, and your billing management.