Law Firm Payment Options

Getting clients is a lot tougher than they teach you in law school. Clients need to find you, they need a good case, they have to be trustworthy, and except for contingent cases, they have to pay for your services.

There are more ways than ever to make payments, so what are the best options for firms?

Is cash still king?

Cash is great—you know what it is and you have immediate access to it. On the other hand, do you want to keep cash around the office? Do you wait until the end of the week to make deposits or do you head to the bank every time you get a new client? Having a drawer full of cash around the office is usually not the best idea.

Some banks reportedly charge for depositing cash. Not only does it take time, you can actually lose money from cash transactions.

No checks accepted?

Checks do not involve the same security risk as cash. Checks, however, still need to be deposited at your bank. Even worse, most banks require ten days for the funds to clear. If a client needs something done right away, paying by check can severely slow things down.

If you have the time, checks may be a better bet than cash.

Is plastic the way to go?

Credit card companies may charge for processing transactions at your office. On top of that, you need to have a card reader and spend time handling the transaction.

PayPal solves the card reader issue—clients can pay online either before they come in or simply make a payment online while they sit in your office. PayPal does charge a fee for transactions. For transactions under $3,000, the fee is $.30 cents and 2.9% of the transaction. Not chump change by any means.

At the same time, the money is deposited immediately, and there are minimal security risks. If you can live with the processing fee, PayPal is a great option.

(Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/steverhode/3080974058)

  • Greg Broiles

    I accept checks but process them electronically – my bank (Bank of the West in California) sold me a $400 check scanner (ok, that’s more than it ought to be, but that’s life) and I can process deposits remotely – I just scan the checks and fill out an electronic deposit slip in their dedicated (Windows) software, and off it goes.

    I don’t find that it takes 10 days for local checks to clear – 10 days sounds like the worst case scenario, but not typical.

    Processing deposits without going to the bank made a significant improvement in my quality of life, because it’s an errand I don’t have to schedule/run, and because checks clear faster. I’m really glad I got this thing.

    My credit union (personal banking, not business banking) will let me scan checks on my Fujitsu Scansnap for processing thru their website, too.

  • Lawrence Brenner

    Paypal sounds nice but does it have option customized for lawyers similar to LawCharge so that you may avoid ethical pitfalls or the headache of transferring money from your operating account for the account charges? If not, how do you handle the account charges? Do you just transfer the fees from your operating account each time they are assessed? Once a month? Or do you charge the fees to your clients?

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

    @Greg: $400 for a check scanner? Holy shit. Some banks are letting you snap a picture with your cell phone. Or like your credit union any old scanner.

    @Lawrence: PayPal won’t do the trust account thing. We don’t take advances by credit card, just flat fees and fees for unbundled services. As you’ve no doubt noticed, Randall and I don’t do much hourly billing, so our trust account doesn’t get a lot of action from traditional hourly-fee advances.

  • http://www.whittfirm.com/ Wendy

    I’m still wrestling with this issue. I’m transitioning to 75% virtual practice, so having clients mail me checks, then having to drive to the bank and deposit them, followed by waiting days for checks to clear is not acceptable. Right now I’m using PayPal and invoicing through Freshbooks, but I’m not thrilled with the fee and looking for ways to reduce my fees and overhead even more. (I don’t use any expensive services but $19.99 a month for this and $19.99 for that adds up quickly.) My bank wanted to charge me a hefty fee for the check scanner AND a monthly fee to use it. I’d love to hear more input from other solos on how they accept payments.