Ed Poll over at LawBizblog.com has an excellent analysis of the recent proposed rules in California about lawyers accepting credit cards.
Perhaps I am just being impatient but the real “guts” of the issue, in my opinion is addressed in his 8th comment: The
Committee appropriately highlights the change in thinking since 1970
where the “use of credit cards for payment of legal fees was deemed
unprofessional.” However, the Committee fails to give full credit to
today’s realities. Most obligations today are paid by credit card; many
fewer are paid by check; and almost none are paid by cash, the only
form of legal tender.
Sadly for all concerned (especially them) in the minds of many
lawyers, accepting credit cards still has a stigma attached to it which
has it’s roots in the felatious either-or-debate: Is the practice of
law a profession -or- a business.
The fact of the matter is that for a thousand years (literally) it
has been both. One simply cannot have a profitable law firm, without it
being highly professional and ethical. But you can have an ethical law
firm, at least for a little while, without it being very profitable.
And so lawyers with no formal business training get confused and allow
themselves to be distracted by red herrings like whether or not people
will think more or less of us if we adopt modern business practices and
accomodate clients’ bill paying preferences.
It reminds me alot of the hip-hop videos you see these days which
emphasize forum over substance to such a degree that in certain
circles, it doesn’t matter where or how the money is earned, as long as
you drive a fancy car and have fancy jewlery.
For a historical perspective, recall that it is was not too long ago
that many lawyers thought it unprofessional to send a fax, or to send
an e-mail, or to have a website, or to have a computer on one’s desk or
credenza, or to do your own typing, or to employ women as lawyers.
The mechanics of accepting payment by credit cards are exactly
analogous to accepting payment by check: The client instructs an
intermediary to transfer funds to the lawyer. End of story. The fact is
that banks screw this up on a regular basis but you don’t see anyone
crying about it being unprofessional to accept a check from a client.
If officials in the State Bar want to talk about what’s REALLY
unprofessional, howabout if they consider the negative images created
about our profession when we have thousands of lawyers on their hands
& knees grovelling to get clients to pay their bills-after-the fact
and having to swallow stories about “the check is in the mail”. . . or
the stress and strain it puts on an attorney-client relationship when
the lawyer becomes creditor to his/her own client, instead of giving
that role to Visa or Mastercard and so we can focus on being objective
advocates and advisors!
At least one credit card processing company has figured out a simple
way to address the only legitimate concern raised by the Bar: Will the
entire amount charged, be credited to the client’s ledger card in a
lawyer’s trust account?
For more information, check out www.howtomanageasmalllawfirm.com