Why, Oh Why Won’t They Pay?

October 29, 2015

I am a true solo – it’s just me and two cats. No husband, boyfriend, or significant other to assist with the bills (or anything else in my life). I work in my unfinished basement at a beautiful desk donated by my friend and mentor, Lyza Sandgren. My walls and ceilings are exposed studs; my floor, concrete. But for the island that is my desk and the leftover carpeting on the floor, I am surrounded by storage boxes, the water heater, and furnace. With no walls, I have no place to hang my diplomas, certificates, or other office decor.

Let me clarify, I’m not complaining. I chose this life and I love what I do as a professional virtual paralegal. There is nothing to compare to the flexibility of grabbing my laptop and being productive – anywhere. The only thing I miss about working in a brick-and-mortar law office would be the steady paycheck … okay, fine, I miss having a full benefits package.

To stay in business (and keep the bills paid), I rely on my clients to pay me timely and in full. To paraphrase Blanche DuBois (A Streetcar Named Desire), ‘I depend on the kindness of strangers.’ I’ve never actually met 95% of my clients in real life. Most of my clients find me through social media and referrals, and occasionally from a professional listserv in which I participate.

The attorneys I ‘know’ from my interactions on Facebook, LinkedIn, or the listserv are hardly strangers. These are people with whom I have had several intelligent (and sometimes silly) interactions. So when one of them contacts me for a one-time gig, I sometimes rely on email confirmations to seal our agreement.

Attorneys will kvetch, until they’re purple, about clients who fail to pay their bills on time. The same attorneys, also insist upon a retainer or prepayment before they’ll work on a file. However in the bizarro world in which I work as a virtual paralegal, they will huff and puff about providing me with the same courtesy.

This year alone, I’ve had two attorney clients – with contracts – fight me tooth and nail over my invoices. If it weren’t for my own bottom line, it would almost be comical how they try to wiggle out of their contractual obligations. Seriously people, I have better things to do with my time and energy than fight with anyone about payment.

It is basic business practice – you hire me to work, we agree on a fee, I complete the assignment, send you a bill, and you freaking pay me. It’s all paint by numbers. Isn’t it?

I’m currently chasing after a 3rd attorney for payment of my duly earned fees – a non-contracted attorney client that hired me in May for a one time gig. As a courtesy, I offered him the “friends and family” discount because I know him from the listserv. We agreed on a fee; I completed the work promptly; and at the end of the month I sent him an invoice.

His response to thyosemite same invoice was, “I will forward payment once the client pays me.” AND he addressed me as Pam in his responsive email… the horror!

Since we didn’t have a formal contract in place, I didn’t hold him to my net 30-day payment clause. I did, however, admonish him for calling me Pam.

On July 1st, I sent him a ’friendly’ reminder email with another copy of the invoice. Four days later he responded, “The issue is still open.” In my head I went full-on Yosemite Sam – after all, the original invoice was only for about $200.

For those of you who follow this blog, you know my summer did not begin well. My mom’s home, in Houston, flooded on May 26, 2015. I’ve spent the greater part of the last several months at her side. The folks on the listserv are more than well aware of some of the more significant issues with which I had to deal because of the impact of the flooding. The least of which has been the impact on my finances and business.

I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to avoid using the flood as a crutch. It seems unprofessional for me to invoke my circumstances to impart guilt on those who refuse to pay me timely.

When it came time to send out the July bills at the beginning of August, I reversed the discount and made demand for payment within 15 days, reminding him I too expect timely payment for services rendered. His response, “And I have yet to be paid by the client, as they hit some snags. We anticipate closing 9/1.” AND he called me Pam again!

I immediately responded with a gentle reminder that I prefer Pamela to Pam, and, much to my embarrassment, I invoked the flood.

Yosemite Sam was having an old-fashioned cussin’ party in my head. It’s not nearly as funny as it may sound.

I rationalized it. I’d give him until September 1 to make good on the invoice. The reminder went out on September 2nd.

<crickets>

He couldn’t be bothered to send a response.

On October 1st, I reiterated my demand for payment in full. I even used bold, red 18-point font followed by a lot of exclamation points.

<more crickets>

October is almost over and I’m still waiting for payment of, what most might consider, a measly $225.

Remember, I’m a true solo. That $225 represents round-trip airfare back home to Houston to help my mom. Ethics, and my personal moral compass, prohibit me from outing him by name, location, or area of practice either here or on the listserv. It would cost me more than what I’m owed to sue him. I have few options, but venting to you, my loyal followers, helps.

In the meantime, I’ll go back into the invoice and assess interest charges and on November 1st, I’ll send him the updated invoice and demand for payment.

And on that happy note, I’ll get back to working for the clients who appreciate and pay me.

One Response to “Why, Oh Why Won’t They Pay?”

  1. Shirley Miller-Lee

    Hi Pamela – great blog, however, want to let you know that whatever business you’re in, people will keep you waiting for money and pretty often don’t pay and we have to write that money off because even at a huge debt, suing them is counter productive and expensive – they go out of business and can’t be found – emerge with another name etc etc. and yes – its all very personal and disgusting. I really hope that $225 is all you lose even tho its huge in the scheme of things. Carry on – being your own boss is worth even the losses. Hugs and Love – Shirley

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