What Attorneys Should Know About Accepting Credit Cards

Figuring out how best to accept credit cards and online payments from your clients can be a daunting process. From deciphering babble about complicated fee structures to choosing a payment processing system that is compatible with client trust accounts -- you'll be swimming in murky water at the best of times (and you've got to watch out for sharks).

Because few people nowadays write checks, it's essential to enable clients to pay electronically. Here are the main options available for accepting credit cards and other forms of electronic payment. The choice of which one's best for you will generally depend on the size and nature of your legal practice.

Legal-Specific Services for Accepting Credit Cards and Online Payments

As you might have guessed, a number of specialized companies have sprung up offering payment processing services to law firms. Many of these services will allow a payment to be deposited directly into a client trust account, with the credit card transaction fees drawn from the firm's operating account to avoid prohibited trust withdrawals. Some of these legal-specific services can also integrate with a law practice management or billing system, so that invoicing and payment processing become seamless.

The available options include LawPay, LawCharge, LexCharge, Headnote, and Lex/Actum. In addition, law practice management systems such as MyCase and Abacus have built-in payment processing features.

Traditional Merchant Accounts

Businesses that want to accept credit cards have traditionally opened a "merchant account." Most retailers and other businesses of any size have one. For some attorneys this may be a good option as well, particularly if your law practice doesn't deal with client trust accounts. The cost of a merchant account may be lower than a legal-specific payment processing service.

Hundreds of companies offer merchant accounts; your own bank may be one of them. If you choose this option, check the fine print for hidden fees, and beware of long-term contracts that are difficult to terminate early.

Payment Service Providers

Long gone are the days when businesses needed merchant accounts in order to accept credit cards. The payment processing industry has been transformed by the emergence of payment service providers (PSPs), which offer the most essential features of merchant accounts but with simpler pricing and no long-term commitment. Two well-known names are Square and PayPal.

There are some downsides to PSPs. For businesses with at least modest revenue, a PSP may end up being substantially more costly than a merchant account. In addition, PSPs' customer service is often minimal, and accounts may be frozen with little immediate recourse if a transaction is deemed suspect. However, if you are a solo practitioner (or perhaps a very small law firm), a PSP is a reasonable option to consider.

It's relatively simple to set up a PSP account; the process is usually done online, with no need to interact with a salesperson. If you would like a card reader, one will be shipped to you, and then you'll be able to accept credit card payments in person, using a smartphone or tablet. Of course, you'll also be able to accept credit cards and other forms of payment online through a web portal.

How to Choose?

In deciding which approach is best for you, it's worth asking your colleagues at other law offices what services they use. It also can't hurt to check to see whether your bar association has any recommendations. Because payment processing fees can add up, it's wise to carefully evaluate the alternatives to find a system that is a suitable fit for your legal practice. Before you know it, you'll be able to accept credit cards, debit cards, and other electronic payments!

Increase Your Chances of Getting Paid

Getting paid is a prime concern for a law practice. In order to increase the prospect of getting paid, through credit cards or other forms of payment, you need a good marketing plan to increase your client base. FindLaw can help you create a comprehensive marketing plan with its integrated Marketing Solutions which is designed to bring the right clients to your door.