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Hi Adam

As a lawyer, charging many (but not all) clients on an hourly basis, I used to experience your problem regularly. But I find there are a few steps you can take as the business owner to minimise the problem you are experencing.

1. I always give a fee estimate. In addition to the hourly rate, I always say “I think this will take us x hours and so your totall bill will be in the region of $y”. Martyn picked up on this.

2. I have my solicitors tell me when they are about half-way through the work. I then tell the client whether we will be within estimate or whether we will likely exceed the estimate. I give the client an opportunity to amend his/her instructions in light of the revised estimate.

3. Before I invoice, I touch base with the client to explain again what we have delivered and what I propose to bill. I give the client the opportunity, at this pre-bill stage, to raise any objections and discuss them with me. Interestingly, they rarely do. But they often do if I just render an invoice without first making this contact. Just psychology perhaps, but there is something to be said for engaging the client in the billing process, rather than just sending out an invoice. Perhaps it is taking away the surprise factor.

This amounts to more work for us than should be necessary if we are delivering value for money….but sometimes you have to prove to your client that what you are delivering is value for money.

I find the above 3 steps really minimise my invoice payment problems. Many clients routinely now pay my invoices with only a cursory check.

Hope this helps.