Lawyers and their billable hours enable them to earn a substantial amount for their expertise. Still, the ability to accept other payment options, aside from cash and checks, would allow them to make even more.
These days, plastic is prevalent. More and more Americans prefer using credit cards for purchasing goods and services. According to the U.S. Federal Reserve, the use of checks decreased by 66% between 2000 and 2018. Credit card usage went up by 392%. Therefore, clients will expect their lawyers to accept credit cards, debit cards, and online payments.
So, why are many law firms unable to accept these types of payments? This guide should help you understand what makes law firms different from other businesses and explain how this affects their payment options. We discuss the various benefits of accepting credit card payments and provide tips on choosing the best law firm credit card processing solution for you.
Yes, law firms can accept credit card payments. It isn’t illegal or unethical for a law firm to get paid for its legal services by credit card. In fact, the American Bar Association already allowed lawyers to accept credit cards as payment for legal services in 1974.
The issue lies with the rules and codes of ethics that lawyers must follow. Specifically, lawyers need to comply with regulations involving trust accounts, fees, and chargebacks.
A law firm receives two kinds of payments: earned fees and retainer fees. Earned fees refer to payments made for legal services already rendered, such as billable hours. Retainer fees are advance payments for when the client needs the law firm’s services in the future.
This means that the money for retainer fees is technically still the client’s property. It does not belong to the law firm. As such, the payment should be deposited into a trust account. The firm cannot use the money to pay the fees of the credit card processing providers. Chargebacks or fees deducted from a trust account are considered an ethics violation.
Credit card processing for law firms comes with challenges that other businesses don’t experience. Law firms need to follow strict compliance regulations, especially with trust accounts. Still, the benefits more than make up for the risk involved.
Credit cards offer clients a convenient way of paying for legal fees. Most Americans prefer to use their credit card for big-ticket items. Depending on the client’s case, a retainer fee can go from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands. Paying with a credit card saves them time and effort. They won’t need to drive to the law firm’s location or the local post office to deliver payment.
Hiring a lawyer is not an everyday expense. Many Americans have no emergency fund, making it a challenge to pay unexpected expenses, including legal fees. The reality is that not all clients have a lot of cash on hand or in the bank.
With a credit card, clients can pay off the lawyer’s fees in installments. It will provide them with some flexibility in budgeting. Clients can even set up automatic payments, making sure the firm receives timely payments.
Credit card payments are easy to set up and convenient to use. Also, the transactions can be tracked on both ends, making it a more attractive payment option for clients. As a result, clients tend to pay faster. With easier payment options, clients can pay the same day they receive the bill, while most others can pay within a week.
Aside from getting paid faster, there’s less of a time delay. The lawyer receives the payment as soon as the credit card company clears it. The less time law firms spend chasing payments, the more time they can spend on actual cases.
Skill and experience are the first and most important factors to consider when choosing a lawyer. But convenience and flexibility are a close second. Law firms aren’t like your average business, where clients regularly go in and out of the office looking for representation.
Turning away a potential client because you don’t accept credit cards is lost revenue. Moreover, the lack of payment options can cause current clients to look for a different firm. When you offer clients their preferred payment option, you provide a client-centered experience. After all, client satisfaction is key to building a good customer base.
Many law firms use practice management software, which allows them to send invoices to clients electronically. The firm can integrate credit card payments into the application, creating a seamless billing process. Clients will be able to pay via card through email. The practice management system records the payment, then sends an electronic receipt. Because of this seamless process, collecting payments has never been this easy.
The main factor for lawyers to consider when choosing the best law firm credit card processing service is bar compliance. This means the payment processor should deposit the funds into a trust account. Also, all transaction fees must be deducted from the firm’s operating account.
When choosing a provider, law firms must check if they are legal-specific credit card processors. Providers offering bar-compliant services may not use this as their standard processing procedure. This is because they offer their solutions to different types of merchants. Make sure to check that their setup is correct for your merchant account so that all fees are processed correctly.
Price is an important factor when choosing a payment processor. Providers such as Stripe offer flat-rate pricing. Legal-specific credit card processors charge monthly fees, which cover the charges coming from the credit card company. For example, Mastercard charges a 1-2% transaction fee. Aside from the monthly fee, these providers also charge a fee per transaction. Some credit card processors structure their fees based on the type of transaction and card used.
Comparison shopping between providers will take time. But it’s worth the effort when you choose the provider that offers a monthly fee and per-transaction fees that suit your business.
Customers are slowly evolving. Credit cards are still the payment method of choice, but many customers are also using mobile payment methods such as Apple Pay and Venmo. To attract a wider pool of clients, choose a credit card processor that can accommodate alternative payment methods as well.
Some payment processors are focused on just that: processing payments. Others are built to integrate with applications such as QuickBooks Online. Some providers package their solutions with law practice management software.
Integration can simplify your billing process. It automates many administrative tasks, freeing up time for performing legal services.
Make sure to ask the provider what platforms or software are compatible with their processes. Also, ensure that you understand how the integration will be done and how “full” the integration will be.
It’s time for your firm to move beyond the traditional payment methods. Today’s clients expect more payment options for their convenience. Partnering with a compliant credit card processor will help you meet your client’s needs while making life easier at your firm. With the right provider, you’ll have more satisfied clients and increase your cash flow—a proven recipe for building a successful legal practice.
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