One of the biggest issues law firm owners face is the issue of cash flow, and it's an issue that has been getting even more attention lately as a result of the 'down' economy. I tell my clients that every issue related to billing, fees or getting paid relates back to the initial meeting with the client. You need to know how to talk to your clients about money, how to articulate the value of your services and how to make it as easy as possible for them to pay you.
It sounds simple - especially the last part - but too many law firms resist it. They think conversations about money are unprofessional. And taking credit cards is considered particularly unprofessional. But if you look up the definition of "professional," you'll see that in addition to being related to a 'profession,' being a professional means being paid for doing a particular activity or type of work, rather than merely engaging in it as a hobby. Under that definition, if your clients can't - or don't - pay you, are you really a professional?
Of course, credit card acceptance isn't the only way to make it easy for your clients to pay you. But if you take up front retainers (and many lawyers should), your clients may not have cash on hand to pay you, particularly if you practice in an area in which the client's legal expenses were unanticipated (such as criminal law). Clients are used to paying with credit. They may not be able to 'afford' to give you a check for that $5,000 retainer, but that won't stop them from using their credit card to buy that new flat screen TV. Why shouldn't you keep that client if they have the credit available to pay you?
Payment solutions that make sense for lawyers
Lawyers have specific ethical responsibilities and rules with which they must comply, and these rules and responsibilities are unique to lawyers. It is important to be mindful of these rules when choosing a payment processing company to work with and choosing payment options for your firm.
I recommend that you seek out a company that has experience working with lawyers, that understands lawyers' ethical obligations and that knows the difference between an escrow or client trust account and a firm operating account - and has products that understand those differences, too. One such company is Capital Payments, who recently launched a new website, Lawyer Payments, that exclusively addresses the payment needs of law firms. Their Escrow Management program can help lawyers create payment systems that work for them, and their credit card acceptance and electronic check options can also help improve cash flow.