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A t law firms across the nation, the calls are going out. Some lawyers adopt a pleading tone on the phone. Others pin their hopes on a sense of camaraderie, presenting it as a personal favor. But the underlying message is always the same: It’s time to pay up.

It’s bill-collecting season, the time of year when law firms gently remind their corporate clients that payment for legal services is due. But while this end-of-year ritual is as customary as the holiday party at most firms, there’s a sense of anxiety surrounding this year’s drive, as partners nervously eye their stacks of outstanding receipts.

“The difference this year is that the combination of the economy and Sept. 11 is going to make people a little more concerned about whether clients will have the cash to pay for legal services,” says Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe Chairman Barry Levin.

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