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Few lawyers today will have heard of Jay G. Foonberg, an American lawyer born in 1935 who practised law for over five decades. He is best known for his classic ABA bestseller, "How to Start and Build a Law Practice" which spectacularly sold over 300,000 copies, a remarkable achievement for a niche topic.

How to write off unpaid customers

He articulated a concept which came to be known as the Foonberg Gratitude Curve to describe the correlation between the progression of a piece of legal work, the client’s appreciation of that work and their willingness to pay, set against a timeline.

We are all too aware that law firm cash flow is positively or negatively impacted by the timing of invoicing and the timing of payment of those invoices.

And yet, all firms struggle with lawyers that are poor at getting their bills out and in some instances struggle to resist partner assertion that interim (monthly or milestone) billing is wholly inappropriate, unacceptable to their clients and incongruous with current practice. "We simply can't bill it until the job is finished" - or words to like effect.

But that delay does not only negatively impact cash flow. It materially impinges upon the client’s perception of what the lawyer actually did, the value they contributed to the matter and ultimately, what they see as a fair fee. You see, client's have very short memories and client gratitude and willingness to pay is like a fillet of fish sitting in the sun - it goes off pretty quickly.

But no further explanation is required from me. Foonberg’s original diagram says it all…

Screenshot 2022 05 25 at 9 22 05 pm

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