Due to a law firm’s team-oriented approach to business development and client service efforts, it is not always clear who should logically and most efficiently serve as the billing partner for a client or a particular client matter. A person should only be a billing partner if he or she is or will be performing the functions outline herein.
Typically, a partner who “gets the call” on a new matter for an existing client should, as a partner courtesy, confer with the person who has primarily served as billing partner before opening the matter. If the person who has historically served as billing partner is continuing to fulfill the billing partner responsibilities (see below), he or she should usually be the billing partner for the new matter, absent any other circumstances which might dictate otherwise. “Getting the call,” by itself, does not mean that the person should be the billing partner on the new matter. It may be that the historical billing partner has done an outstanding job of cross-selling, is continuing to fulfill billing partner responsibilities (including those for the new matters), and should continue to be the billing partner for the new matter. Similar considerations apply for new clients.
On the other hand, because a person was the billing partner on the first matter ever opened does not necessarily mean that he or she should be the billing partner on all subsequent matters. Such would be the case if the billing partner has not been performing the functions outlined herein and has had no role in developing the new matter. By way of illustration, Partner A gets a call from a mid-level manager to perform a small project for a client. Partner A performs the work, closes the file and has no further contact with client or with client decision makers. Later, after independent marketing efforts by Partner B to other decision makers in the organization, client retains the firm to perform a major project. Partner A has had no role, or even knowledge, that the marketing effort has taken place. In fact, the client does not even know that Partner A had done a project previously. Partner A should not reasonably expect to be the billing partner on the new matter.
Obviously, no single rule or guideline will dictate the answer to this question in every instance. Rather, billing responsibility should be considered and determined on a case-by-case basis. If more than one partner has assisted in the origination of the new client or client matter, or is actively involved in providing services to that client, the partners should determine among themselves who will have the responsibility of serving as the billing partner for the client or client matter. If the partners are for any reason unable to make this determination, after good faith efforts to do so, the billing responsibility will be determined by the firm’s managing partner and/or executive committee. In any event, all partners who significantly assisted in the origination of the new client or client matter should be listed as “originating partners” on any New Business Memo.
In making the determination regarding who should serve as the billing partner, partners (and ultimately, if necessary, the firm’s managing partner), should consider the following factors:
- Which partner has (or will have) primary responsibility for client management, overall supervision and administration of client services and is (or will be) the primary point of contact for the client? In short, who does (or will) the client look to for the overall care and maintenance of its interests within the firm?
- Who was primarily responsible for the origination of the client or new client matter and what level of assistance did they provide?
- Has the client stated a preference for receiving consolidated billing for various matters of for receiving its bills from a particular partner within the firm?
- Which partner has the primary or strongest relationship with the client?
- Which partner is in the best position to address and resolve any issues or problems which may arise with the client?
- Which partner has traditionally served as the billing partner on most or all other matters for the particular client and does that partner continue to have strong relationships and active involvement with the client and the client’s legal matters?
- Who, in reality, is bearing the bulk of the billing partner responsibilities for the client?
Billing Partner Responsibilities
The individual who serves as the billing partner for a client or client matter is responsible for more than just reviewing bills for accuracy and forwarding them to clients on a timely basis. In fact, that is but a small part of the responsibility. Rather, billing partners must also assume responsibility for managing and making efforts to expand the client relationship. If a billing partner is neglecting, unable or unwilling to accept and fulfill this responsibility, the executive committee or the managing partner may, in their discretion, determine that another partner within the firm is best suited to serve in this role. Among other things, billing partners have the following responsibilities with respect to clients and client matters:
- The billing partner has the primary responsibility within the firm for maintaining, nurturing, and expanding the firm’s overall relationships with the client.
- While the billing partner may not be the individual who is actually performing the legal work on behalf of the client, the billing partner is expected to maintain an understanding of the status of all legal matters being handled by the firm for that client so that he or she can effectively communicate with the client regarding the matter(s) as needed.
- The billing partner is expected to communicate regularly with the client, to proactively participate in expanding and nurturing the client relationship and take affirmative steps to “institutionalize” the client by cross-selling the firm’s services and organizing and implementing off-the-clock meetings, as appropriate. The billing partner is particularly responsible for introducing and involving other firm partners in significant roles with the client.
- The billing partner has responsibility for assuring that the client is receiving the highest quality service and attention from the firm. If and when problems or concerns arise, the billing partner is expected to take primary responsibility for addressing and resolving any such problems or concerns.
- The billing partner must carefully review all invoices to assure that time entries are accurate, complete and appropriate. He or she should, as necessary, discuss time entries with other partners who have performed services for the client.
- The billing partner is required to timely send out all invoices.
- The billing partner is responsible for following up with clients who are delinquent in the payment of their invoices and working with the firm’s accounting department and the executive committee to collect these delinquent accounts.
- The billing partner is expected to confer with clients regarding any billing questions and timely notify the executive committee of any requested write-offs or problems with client invoices.
- The billing partner is expected to initiate opportunities to entertain the client’s representatives and introduce other firm members to the client in social settings.
Guidelines for Transferring Billing Responsibilities
From time-to-time circumstances will arise where it will be appropriate and/or necessary to transfer billing responsibility from one partner to another. These circumstances include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Where the managing partner or executive committee determines that circumstances exist which indicate that the interests of the firm are best served by transferring billing partner responsibilities.
- When the billing partner is engaged in a transition plan towards retirement.
- When the roles and responsibilities outlined herein are not being fulfilled by the current billing partner as to some or all matters for a client.
Who should serve as billing partner is not always a clear or black and white determination. We hope that partners will keep the best interests of the firm and a spirit of teamwork and support of each other at the forefront in making these decisions. Any questions concerning these guidelines should be directed to the Executive Committee.
Joel A. Rose is President of Joel A. Rose & Associates, Inc., a firm of management consultants based in Cherry Hill, NJ. A member of the Board of Editors of our ALM sibling newsletter Accounting and Financial Planning for Law Firms, he may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of their clients or other attorneys in their firm.
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