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In Focus Collections

Finding the right figure

Sometimes the legal profession can be hard to collect from – but sometimes quite the opposite

Arthur Kaufman Independent speaker and writer

In reading about a report that over half the invoices from SMEs remain unpaid in the debtor-day period, I was reminded of experiencing similar problems after starting out as a clinical psychologist with a special interest in medico-legal matters and the effects of accident injuries.

While I had absolutely no intention of being in the lending line, I was soon out of pocket despite earning fees from providing reports to solicitors acting for claimants seeking compensation for mental difficulties arising from traumatic incidents. The solicitors concerned were invoiced about a fortnight later, by which time, I assumed, they would have read the report and digested my considered opinion on their client, and paid up accordingly.

Three months’ grace

Although I allowed for up to three months’ grace before sending out reminders for outstanding accounts, more often than not there was no sign of cheques ever having been in the post.

In desperation, I tried various ploys to get errant lawyers to pay up, by way of serial reminders, numerous telephone calls, and whatever technology I had at my disposal. On one occasion, I even pinned a short rhyme to the invoice which read: “Roses are red, violets are blue, payment of my fee is long overdue.”

A range of reasons

I was often given a range of reasons why I was not paid for my so-called expert efforts, the most common being: “we are not in funds” which, on faith, I assumed meant my legal debtors had not been paid either. Even worse, I was told my fee would not be met until the claim was finalised, which

March 2017

could be in three years or more, with some nearer the five year mark.

Once I even received a cheque seven years after doing the report, which I failed to chase up, as I had mistakenly recorded the account as paid. If, rarely, I was reimbursed within 30 days, I regarded it as nearly miraculous.

A reasonable argument

So, in the interests of my overdraft, I put forward what I thought was a reasonable argument why I should be paid, using the example of a small builder who decides to construct an estate of some 50 new homes, From start to finish, including time needed to sell them, this could take several years, during which time, labour and materials had to be paid for, as well as an agent’s fees. The builder would then have to go to the bank, or another provider, before the first foundation was laid, whereas I was not anything resembling either, and had to think very carefully before even hinting to my bank manager that I was not ‘in funds’ or that the bank would simply have to wait until I alone decided when to pay for their services and interest charges. Despite my – usually unsuccessful – efforts to obtain what was mine, I soon learned this

was apparently how the ‘system’ worked. I had no way to know if the solicitors had received any interim payments for work they had already done, including their charges incurred in arranging for me to provide a report and sending me reams of photocopied information on the claim itself. Fortunately, there were only a few times when I could not obtain a reply from the ‘offending’ firm, even after warning that I would have to issue a county court summons for what was owed, the threat of which was subsequently ignored.

A summons issued

Although I allowed for up to three months’ grace before sending out reminders for outstanding accounts, more often than not there was no sign of cheques ever having been in the post

In such instances, a summons was issued after I had no reply from a recorded- delivery letter. This usually, but not always, resulted in immediate payment, which included the cost of the summons. Surprisingly, this did not stop the first firm I had to sue from referring me several more claimants and then paying on time for the reports provided, which seemed to confirm that it was much better to be feared than be loved, if a debtor unilaterally decided to settle my account very much later than sooner. Since I never had a complaint from any solicitor for charging too much for the work carried out, it is only fair that I disclose an example of how I was actually overpaid, and most generously so. This occurred early on in my medico-legal career when, for the first time, I was required to give evidence on a hotly disputed personal-injury claim.


Assuming I would be given a hard time in being cross-examined in over my report, I was a little anxious when I arrived at court, as there was a strong difference of opinion between myself and my

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