[APG Public List] client who ignores billing

eshown at comcast.net eshown at comcast.net
Mon Feb 22 11:24:56 MST 2010

Larry wrote:
>the other suggestion I meant to make was to break up the research into
smaller chunks, with payment expected at the end of each one.  You mentioned
40 hrs.  I wouldn't do that amount of research in one go.  I require
periodic payment as the research proceeds.  Maybe 10 hours worth, then a
summary report and payment for that portion. That way the person is
constantly building a stake in the project as it proceeds.  
 >It also gives the client a chance to suspend the research for a period of
time, for financial or other reasons.
For assignments in which research essentially involves "searching records,"
this is wise. On the other hand, in many areas across rural America, where
research is far more complex and piecing together even a pattern might not
be possible in less than 40 hours, reporting every ten or so hours would not
work. The time would be insufficient to develop anything meaningful and
clients would walk away thinking "once again, I got nothing from the
Avoiding the situation Alice found herself in often lies in the initial
evaluation of the problem; and that evaluation should include the client, as
Like Larry, I would never take on 40 hours for a new client without an
advance. To be realistic, few clients would be willing to pay an individual
researcher for 40 hours in advance without some measure of "consumer
assurance." Those who do so typically hire someone who is Board-certified,
knowing they are skill-tested and backed by an arbitration board; or they
hire genealogists whose case studies published in peer-reviewed journals
speak to the quality of their work; or they hire someone who has been
personally recommended by others who have used them for large-scale
projects; or they buy blocks of time from well-established firms in major
research cities, firms who are members of local chambers of commerce, etc.
If, as a genealogist, I could not offer prospective clients this level of
assurance, but a client were to verbally promise payment after 40 hours of
work, I would be leery of that promise.
If my initial evaluation of the client's problem suggested to me that it was
complex enough to need that many hours, my first assignment would not be for
research. Instead, I would suggest that we begin with an analysis of the
client's problem and the development of a research plan. Depending upon how
much work the client had already done, that initial analysis might take 8 to
10 hours-or longer, in some cases. For the analysis, I would ask to see all
materials the client has accumulated-raw notes and documents, not the
client's own "genealogical summary." 
In many such cases I've taken on, the client's problem was actually solved
during that analysis; the materials already accumulated actually provided
the answer but the client did not have the experience to understand the
language of the records or recognize how disparate "clues" could fit
together to provide the needed answer. More typically, that eight- to
ten-hour analysis spotlighted weaknesses in the assembled materials, areas
in which prior researchers had jumped to invalid conclusions or were
trusting unreliable evidence. Typically, too, the research plan I developed
would include things that clients could do for themselves, if they chose, or
things they might need a researcher in another area to pursue; and it would
estimate the number of hours that each step of the research plan would
likely require. Past that point, advances would be based upon how much of
the research plan the client wished to pursue-with the understanding that if
a step did not require the full estimate, credit would be applied to the
next research assignment; or, conversely, if a step required more than the
needed number of hours, I would go no more than two hours past the advance.
As Larry also suggests, this approach also allows clients to "suspend the
research" at any point, as their own needs require.
Responding to a client request for lengthy research with a proposal that we
first analyze the current materials and develop a research plan accomplishes
two important benefits:  First, it determines whether a client is serious
enough about the pursuit of the problem to cover the significant number of
hours needed to resolve it and eliminates the possibility that an unsavvy or
ethically challenged client might renege on a promise. Second, it lays a
solid foundation for the research so that the solution can, in most cases,
be achieved in far less time.  Over the quarter-century that I have used
this approach, I've had many clients who had previously paid researchers for
thousands of hours of "looking at records" with no solution. The time spent
on developing that foundation for a solution is often the proverbial
drop-in-the-bucket compared to what has already been fruitlessly spent, and
clients who are savvy and serious do recognize that.
Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG
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