Friday, 3 August 2012

No-Shows on Legal Aid: What to do?

Most firms have a policy about what to do if your client doesn't show up to an appointment. Especially where there is a costs agreement in place, no-shows are often charged a portion of the interview cost even if they don't turn up.

Some doctors have the same practice, charging a nominal amount for a no-show.

But what about clients on Legal Aid? The Legal Services Commission policy for aid is that lawyers can't accept any more money for the work that is covered by the grant of aid. You could argue that waiting for clients to show up isn't part of the work covered, but I don't think the Commission would agree with that argument.

I have talked about this with owners of large firms who are always busy, and their policy is that if a person misses more than one appt, they cease acting for that person.

I don't think that works for everyone though, because I only just have enough work to meet my billing targets. If I turned away clients just because they missed appointments, I would never make a profit.

My policy is currently that if a client misses an appointment, I will chase them once, but if they miss another one, then it is up to them to contact me. If they haven't contacted me before Court, I just won't stand up when their matter is called on.

Usually, however, they ring me the day before Court and ask me what is happening on their file.

Today I had a client rock up two hours late for her appointment, and say "Oh, sorry I'm late. Can I see ML now?"

I was free. I had time. I could have seen her.

My secretary, (/bow in awe) sent her away after telling her that she could maybe squeeze her in to my schedule in about 2 hours more. Her view was that if I just saw her whenever she rocked up late (a perennial problem) she would always do it. Sure enough, she turned up 15 minutes early for her rescheduled appointment.

Some restaurants are charging a no-show fee, and some take a booking fee. I wonder if I could get away with asking the clients for $25.00 that we will hold on trust for them, unless they miss a booking, in which case we will bill for it. If they attend all their appointments, or cancel with notice, they get it back at the end of the matter.

This doctor has an interesting view on the matter. He argues that every missed appointment is an opportunity to get other work done, and to catch up on office tasks, or even take a break.

Sure, but that work could be done when you aren't expecting to make some money from a client, and I am a lawyer, for god's sake. I take my Friday long-lawyers-lunch very seriously! I don't need other breaks, especially not for an hour that I have blocked off for a client.


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