Private Eyes: How They Handle Non-Paying Attorney-Clients
Posted by Writing PIs on March 11, 2011
You might be thinking, “What’s with attorneys? What about if anybody doesn’t pay?”
Okay, if anybody doesn’t pay after we’ve made several polite, documented inquiries, we threaten a lawsuit. That particular threat doesn’t work as well on attorneys because they’re, well, attorneys.
Many PIs depend on attorneys for the bulk of their work. Legal investigators, who specialize in trial preparation and other related tasks, might rely solely on their attorney-clients for their income. To be fair, most attorneys pay promptly, or so’s been our experience. However, every now and then an attorney gets a little slow…or a lot slow…or so slow it’s obvious that payment ain’t gonna come unless the PI assertively takes action.
Recently, a group of our PI-peers were talking about what steps they take when an attorney doesn’t pay an investigator’s bill. Below’s a smattering of PIs’ responses (paraphrased by Writing PIs), from reasonable to bulldog tactics.
Reasonable. “I call the attorney’s paralegal, explain the payment is late, ask if they’d like me to re-send the invoice.” (This is our typical approach–hey, things get lost or misplaced. Strange as it may seem, attorneys are human, too.)
Still Reasonable. “I contact the attorney directly, explain the payment is late, would appreciate it if he/she would take care of it as soon as possible.” (Yeah, we’ve done this, too. Once an attorney realized she’d been carrying our invoice in the bottom of her purse for several months, felt embarrassed, promptly mailed the payment.)
Assertive. “I write a letter to the attorney, explain the late payment situation, and demand payment immediately.” (We’ve done this a few times with out-of-state attorneys, and it’s produced a prompt payment. Okay, we add a few “legalese” words in the letter that hint of “Bordering on Bulldog Tactic,” below, which gets things rolling quickly.)
Bordering on Bulldog. “I write the attorney a letter, tell him/her I’ll be filing a grievance against them with the attorney regulatory agency unless they pay my bill immediately.” (This is getting heavy-handed–we’ve done this once in our 8 years in business. It was for an out-of-state attorney who’d gotten exceptional service from us, but because the outcome wasn’t want he wanted — hey, we offer quality investigative work, not guarantees as to what we’ll find! — he tried to stiff us. No attorney wants to be “grieved,” meaning have a complaint lodged against him/her with the regulatory agency because it’s that attorney’s license that’s on the line, so threatening a grievance should really only be done when other, more reasonable, attempts have first been made).
Bulldog. “I’m going to sue you.” (We’ve never done this. That a PI would threaten this seems over the top as threatening to lodge a grievance is far more effective.)
Are you writing a PI who has trouble collecting payments? What does he/she do? Maybe they have someone else play the heavy and collect unpaid invoices. Maybe they use a small collections agency to handle all outstanding bills. Maybe they have a set routine, from reasonable to bordering on bulldog, that they follow sequentially for any outstanding invoices. Maybe they always go the bulldog route, but if they do, we’re guessing they don’t have a lot of attorney-clients.
Have a great weekend, Writing PIs