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Navigating the Sometimes Tricky Waters of Client Relationships

The relationship between attorney and client is one of the most complex business relationships across all professions.  The high duty that lawyers owe their clients requires them to put the clients' interest first.  Yes, this means putting their clients' interest ahead of their own interest, even when it comes to payment. 

I'm always amazed by the collection tactics of most law firms.  The primary weapons tend to be past due notices, strongly worded letters, and -- worst of all -- leverage.  Now, attorneys aren't supposed to wheel leverage against their clients, but the issue of payment complicates matters sometimes.  Lawyers too often use their position of strength over their clients to get paid. 

In some instances, strong arm tactics are necessary and even appropriate.  But fundamentally, the one thing that gets lawyers paid is the strength of relationship.  If an attorney's relationship with the client is built on trust and mutual respect, then payments tend to come much more easily, even if a little late.  Sometimes you have to show trust in order to get paid. 

I typically provide at least two separate "trust" opportunities to every client with a late bill.  What this means in application is that I bend over backwards and allow the client to dictate a payment schedule which works for them.  I continue to represent their interest, even if it means that I have to "trust" that they will make good on their word. 

No doubt, sometimes clients can manipulate lawyers and simply "use" them without an intent to pay.  Most lawyers know that the telltale signs of a "user" client are there right from the beginning.  Lawyers need to be more selective about who they work for, and they won't have as many problems with payment down the line.  If lawyers are willing to provide "trust opportunities" to clients on payment terms, they will find that the power of the clients' word in many cases is the most significant motivation to pay.

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