The best piece of advice I ever received as an attorney

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I didn’t learn it in law school. I don’t remember my father (attorney) talking about it. I didn’t read it in a book.

The best advice I ever received came from my grandfather.

He wasn’t an attorney, he was a business owner, farmer, and commodities trader. He made and lost fortunes in his lifetime and taught me a thing or two about business and life.

When I passed the Bar and opened my first office, he visited me, pointed at the top drawer in my desk, and told me that when I get a new client, the first thing I should do is open that drawer and tell the client to drop the cash in it.

Indelicate, yes, put but sound advice.

And I wish I had always followed it.

Clients who didn’t pay me, or pay me in full, were usually the ones I didn’t ask to pay in advance.

Lesson learned.

I hear from lawyers with clients who haven’t paid or slow-pay or try to weasel out of paying in full. Maybe you’ve had one or two.

Getting paid in advance, or at least getting a big retainer, will eliminate most of that, I tell them.

Yeah, but it will also eliminate them from hiring me, I can hear them thinking. And that’s true. But is that a bad thing?

Even if you need the money and believe it’s worth the risk, in the long run, having a (reasonably) strict policy about getting paid up front will serve you well, but not just in terms of cash flow.

It will also help you build your practice with a better crop of clients.

Clients who can and do pay you, on time or early, refer other clients who can do that, too. These types of clients also tend to have more legal matters and are prepared to pay higher fees if you give them what they want.

Should you ever make exceptions? Sure. But make them exceptions, not the rule.

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