As discussed over at Mashable, a new MasterCard poll reveals that nearly three out of four Americans (73%) say they use less cash today than 10 years ago. Which really shouldn’t come as much of surprise. However, when it comes to lawyers accepting credit card payments for legal services, there seem to be some serious obstacles, as described by at the Andrea Goldman and John W. Marshall at the Massachusetts Bar Association:
For lawyers, it does not feel entirely professional or dignified to reduce one’s payment to such an obvious process. Most of us do not like asking for money. It’s more comfortable to work on retainer or send out a bill with the hope of getting paid. There’s also the issue of ethics. How does one handle credit card payments when processing them through IOLTA and/or operating accounts? What is the proper procedure? How does one avoid running afoul of ethics rules?
Is cash somehow more dignified than credit? I don’t think so. Perhaps lawyers shouldn’t accept currency at all and just use bartering of services. For better or worse, credit cards are now the most common source of financing for America’s small-business owners.
In fact, especially if you serve small business clients, there’s likely an expectation that you will accept payment by credit card.
I get it, lawyers are different. They serve a profoundly important role in our society. But just like everyone else, lawyers gotta eat. If you don’t ask for money, you’re less likely to receive it. Sure, there are better and worse ways to approach the topic, but simply ignoring fees, or only taking cash because it makes you feel better, is pretty limited thinking in my humble opinion.
Credit Card Legal Ethics
Since 1974, The American Bar Association has accepted the propriety of attorneys accepting credit card payment for attorney fees. However, acceptance of credit cards for legal services is not without limitation.
There are a variety of potential ethics pitfalls related to accepting credit cards including:
- Maintaining a Client’s Confidences and Secrets
- Issues Presented by Accepting Credit Cards for the Payment of Advance Fees and Expenses.
- Depositing Advance Fees into Trust Accounts
Here are some resources for your consideration:
- Give Credit Where It’s Due – By Accepting Credit Cards in Payment
- NO EASY CREDIT by Constance V. Vecchione
- ABA Formal Ethics Opinion 00-419 ($20)
- SC Bar’s Taking Charge: Accepting Credit Cards for Legal Fees (.pdf)
- DC Bar Opinion 348
- Cal Bar’s FORMAL OPINION NO. 2007-172
Of course, you should check with your state’s current rules regarding acceptance of credit cards for legal services.
Credit Card Processing
Once you’ve gotten over the indignity and understand how you can ethically accept credit card payments, there’s the issue of actually processing credit card payments:
- Accepting Credit Cards: Comparing Authorize.Net, Virtual Payment System, and PayPal
- Process Credit Card Payments with ROAM
- Credit Card Processing Tips for Lawyers—Don’t Get Ripped Off
What’s your experience with accepting credit card payment? Do you find it undignified for the legal profession? Do your clients expect you to accept credit card payment? Which credit card processing services have you used?