Celebrating 10 years! 2007-2017

Associate Attorney's Responsibilities - Unpaid/late bills

Is it normal to have associates follow up with clients for u fandan06/27/17
Are you allowed to withdraw if the client doesn't pay? Or ar fettywap06/27/17
as a young associate, I had to call clients to get them to p blakesq06/27/17
This. Partners get paid off the sweat equity of associates sjlawyer06/27/17
What's the possible upside of working for this hellhole? Yo qport06/27/17
Except it becomes the associate's problem if the associate's jeffm06/27/17
Yes. At my firm, once a file is assigned to an associate, i pauperesq06/27/17
pauperesq - do you mind me asking what happens if the client fandan06/27/17
The attorneys here get their base salary regardless of wheth pauperesq06/27/17
That's not a normal arrangement. Associate pay shouldn't isthisit06/27/17
The new free market capitalist for the employees: you get to triplesix06/27/17
This sounds like a wage and hour law violation-- can't be no lolwutjobs06/27/17
It probably is illegal. You're a salaried employee, not an i fettywap06/27/17
fk no. I have withheld work product when bills have been dingbat06/27/17
It's illegal to not pay an employee for work, regardless of sillydood06/27/17
Disagree with above responses. The firm can assign you what jeffm06/27/17
I hae no issue with the responsibility, just with withholdin dingbat06/27/17
This. A salary is just that. It isn't a contingency arrang sjlawyer06/27/17
Is salary based on billable amounts COLLECTED? This is a cr jeffm06/27/17
I don't understand "commission" or "draw" to be the same thi lolwutjobs06/27/17
What the OP describes isn't really a salary at all, though. flharfh06/27/17
OP can tell us. No need to speculate. jeffm06/27/17
Yes, I am paid off what I bill. I get a percentage of what fandan06/28/17
You are getting shafted, no two ways about it. Start seekin pauperesq06/28/17
how much of what you bill do you get? And how much are you dingbat06/28/17
I get half, and the hours fluctuate quite a bit - from 40 to fandan06/28/17
It all depends on what your hourly rate is under that arrang flharfh06/28/17
If I were you, I'd do as much marketing/networking as you ca dingbat06/28/17
I agree with dingbat. Before you jump ship too quickly, you jeffm06/28/17
Thanks for the replies. No way in hell I'd jump ship to ano fandan06/28/17
In house from small law, what is your exit strategy? loblawyer06/28/17
How are you paid if 100% of your clients pay their bills in fettywap06/27/17

fandan (Jun 27, 2017 - 9:06 am)

Is it normal to have associates follow up with clients for unpaid bills?

Most of my law firm's practice runs on retainers, and in some cases on 2-week billing cycles when the retainers run out and we don't ask for another retainer. In recent times, the firm has adopted an unwritten/inconsistently applied policy that if the retainer runs out and the client goes on a billing cycle, the lawyers working on the file may not be paid for their work on the file until the client pays. "It is the lawyers' responsibility to have the retainer replenished." As a side note, associates are assigned to their files - they do not choose the clients, but the partners assign themåΩ to the associates.

I hate having this nonbillable, administrative task looming over me - especially when I did not pick the client, or set scope of work or initial retainer amount.

How many associates here have to chase clients for unpaid/late bills on behalf of the firm? Is that normal?

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fettywap (Jun 27, 2017 - 9:11 am)

Are you allowed to withdraw if the client doesn't pay? Or are you just supposed to hope they pay when you are given no real means to collect if they refuse? That's crap. I don't think that's normal.

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blakesq (Jun 27, 2017 - 9:20 am)

as a young associate, I had to call clients to get them to pay. As a solo attorney, I have to do that even more. However, I would not work as an associate if work I did was not paid for because client failed to pay. It is the partner/firm's responsibility to pay associates, and ultimately get clients to pay. Good luck!

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sjlawyer (Jun 27, 2017 - 9:25 am)

This. Partners get paid off the sweat equity of associates but they take the risk on. Associates get effectively a "guaranteed" salary of sorts (insomuch as it can be). that's the trade.

edited to add: chasing bills seems fine, but not getting paid because of that seems unfair.

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qport (Jun 27, 2017 - 3:42 pm)

What's the possible upside of working for this hellhole? You have all the risk of private practice (paychecks contingent on the client paying you) with none of the upsides (the profits of the business). If a client doesn't pay that's that partner's problem, not the employees.

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jeffm (Jun 27, 2017 - 4:42 pm)

Except it becomes the associate's problem if the associate's pay is based on collected billings.

The upside to this arrangement is training and procuring clients. Though some might pay or pay slow, it's better than having none at all.

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pauperesq (Jun 27, 2017 - 9:31 am)

Yes. At my firm, once a file is assigned to an associate, it is the associate's job to make sure the client is paying (as opposed to a file that a partner keeps but an associate assists with). We get a cut of the fees collected so there's incentive to stay on top of non or slow paying clients.

Not getting paid because a deadbeat client won't pay, however, is garbage.

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fandan (Jun 27, 2017 - 1:22 pm)

pauperesq - do you mind me asking what happens if the client doesn't pay? Is the policy you don't get the cut of the fees then but you still get paid something?

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pauperesq (Jun 27, 2017 - 11:28 pm)

The attorneys here get their base salary regardless of whether the client pays or not. The percentage we get for fees collected is a bonus. But yes, it's a percentage of fees collected (not just billed), so if the client doesn't pay I don't see that bonus.

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isthisit (Jun 27, 2017 - 9:33 am)

That's not a normal arrangement.

Associate pay shouldn't be dependent on them replenishing the retainer. Associates are "salaried" while Partners have to eat what they kill.

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triplesix (Jun 27, 2017 - 10:14 am)

The new free market capitalist for the employees: you get to share some of the risks of doing business while not sharing in the profits!!!

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lolwutjobs (Jun 27, 2017 - 10:47 am)

This sounds like a wage and hour law violation-- can't be normal

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fettywap (Jun 27, 2017 - 12:09 pm)

It probably is illegal. You're a salaried employee, not an independent contractor. You could report them to your department of labor for lost wages after you change jobs.

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dingbat (Jun 27, 2017 - 1:27 pm)

fk no.

I have withheld work product when bills have been outstanding. If the firm won't pay you, you shouldn't do any work. They are the ones responsible to the client for getting the work done diligently, put their license on the line (and make it clear to your client that it's them, and not you, who should be named in the bar complaint - Hel, I'd even explain to them why you're not doing any work, and advise them to file the complaint)

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sillydood (Jun 27, 2017 - 3:51 pm)

It's illegal to not pay an employee for work, regardless of their performance.

The proper approach would be to clearly outline in associates' scope of work that they're expected to help with billing. And the policy should make clear it's a performance issue if they don't do this (I.e. They can be fired).

But you can't not pay an employee after they've worked. Baffling that a group of lawyers thought that was okay! The partners are opening themselves up to a lawsuit or bar discipline or worse.

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jeffm (Jun 27, 2017 - 4:00 pm)

Disagree with above responses. The firm can assign you whatever responsibilities it wants.

If I was a partner and didn't want my associates to get too comfy with my clients, I would think twice about delegating this responsibility. The effect would be that the partner is training the associate to do everything needed to make it as a solo. Eventually, a competent solo who can bring in money will either expect to become a partner or will quit and go solo.

As long as the associate doesn't want this responsibility, it is easier to maintain his dependence on the firm.

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dingbat (Jun 27, 2017 - 4:13 pm)

I hae no issue with the responsibility, just with withholding salary

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sjlawyer (Jun 27, 2017 - 4:21 pm)

This. A salary is just that. It isn't a contingency arrangement. Otherwise, the associate/employee should have input on what cases/clients to take, which inevitable leads to the partnership discussion.

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jeffm (Jun 27, 2017 - 4:30 pm)

Is salary based on billable amounts COLLECTED? This is a critical question with regard to your answer. OP doesn't say.

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lolwutjobs (Jun 27, 2017 - 4:54 pm)

I don't understand "commission" or "draw" to be the same thing as salary.

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flharfh (Jun 27, 2017 - 5:07 pm)

What the OP describes isn't really a salary at all, though. Salaries aren't conditional on customer payment. Can you imagine being an employee in literally any other industry and having your employer reduce your pay because some customer's check bounced? It's nuts.

Whether an arrangement like that runs afoul of labor laws would vary by state I suppose and might depend on whether the position was advertised as salaried and whether the firm was honest about this at the time of hiring.

Regardless, if I was the OP I would definitely be looking to leave a firm that would treat its associates like this.

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jeffm (Jun 27, 2017 - 6:18 pm)

OP can tell us. No need to speculate.

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fandan (Jun 28, 2017 - 11:16 am)

Yes, I am paid off what I bill. I get a percentage of what I bill - if I don't work, I don't get paid (no vacation or sick leave, in other words). While I have thought my cut seemed generous, the more I think about it, I am sensing that I am not getting a fair shake. I don't have any paid leave, no retirement benefits, an pay for my computer (and software) and cell phone. Health insurance is offered but I use my husband's. I also pay for all of my CLEs, law license, and other professional organization memberships. In short, the only benefit I am getting from this job is from what I work, and now even that is in jeopardy if the client doesn't pay.

I am starting to see that I am bearing more risk (and expenses) than a normal employee or associate in a law firm does. And this latest threat about withholding certain amounts to my paycheck is putting me over the edge.

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pauperesq (Jun 28, 2017 - 11:53 am)

You are getting shafted, no two ways about it. Start seeking employment elsewhere. It's borderline criminal that you're required to take on so much risk.

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dingbat (Jun 28, 2017 - 12:32 pm)

how much of what you bill do you get? And how much are you billed at?

If you're being billed at a high enough rate, and you're getting a big enough cut, you're basically a solo paying a referral fee - which is not a bad setup if the amount of work is steady.

If your rate is low and/or you're not getting a big cut, then, yeah, you're being f*cked

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fandan (Jun 28, 2017 - 2:56 pm)

I get half, and the hours fluctuate quite a bit - from 40 to as high as 80 a period (1/2 month). I hit 80 only once, and on average I hit about 40-50.

The billable hours don't seem like much compared to the typical (horror story) billable requirements, but I am always busy. We have no support staff so I have to do a lot of nonbillable activity (general file prep, printing, gathering/organizing background research and updates in law, etc.). I do client intakes and initial meetings that are also not always billable, as well. I am expected to do marketing efforts for the firm - blogging, networking events, etc. - again not billable. At least 3-6 evenings per month are spent at networking events, with some additional that might happen during the work day. I am starting to scale back on that aspect and be more selective on what I attend.

What do you think is a fair shake? What hourly rate/billable hours would you want if you had an arrangement like this?

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flharfh (Jun 28, 2017 - 3:08 pm)

It all depends on what your hourly rate is under that arrangement. Assume you are billed out at 150/hr and you're collecting 45 hrs/bi-weekly of billables with two weeks off/yr. That means you're making 75 * 45 * 25 = 84,375/yr. That's not as good as it sounds though because you don't get any benefits.

Whether that's worth it would depend on how many hours you're actually working, your experience level, your alternatives, etc.

On a side note, firms hire support staff for a reason - a secretary would allow you to spend more time billing and earning more for the firm. Sounds like your partners are penny smart and dollar foolish, especially since it sounds like they are putting you in a position to do free work for deadbeat clients.

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dingbat (Jun 28, 2017 - 3:28 pm)

If I were you, I'd do as much marketing/networking as you can, so that you can go solo as quick as you can.

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jeffm (Jun 28, 2017 - 6:14 pm)

I agree with dingbat. Before you jump ship too quickly, you ought to get a good feeling about what's involved in collecting money so you can make more money. This is the #1 short-coming in most solos' practices. If you can't bother to learn and deal with it when your pay depends on it now, how are you going to bother to learn and deal with it when your pay depends on it later. This is all preparation to go solo. If you don't like what it takes, don't go solo; look for another job.

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fandan (Jun 28, 2017 - 7:46 pm)

Thanks for the replies. No way in hell I'd jump ship to another law firm (or open my own shop). Going in-house after this.

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loblawyer (Jun 28, 2017 - 9:28 pm)

In house from small law, what is your exit strategy?

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fettywap (Jun 27, 2017 - 5:10 pm)

How are you paid if 100% of your clients pay their bills in full? Like is it a flat $8,000 a month salary, or are you always paid a percentage of what is billed? I know some personal injury lawyers who have employment contracts where they make like 20% on all cases they settle and that's how they're paid. I guess you weren't being clear on how you're supposed to be paid. If you do retainer work and not contingency fee work though, you should be on salary and they should not be deducting from your pay.

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