Money, Small Law Firms

Small Firms, Big Lawyers: Green Beans and Credit Cards

Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Small Firms, Big Lawyers, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

There’s this great little Chilean sandwich shop near my office in Boston. Now I don’t know the first thing about Chilean cuisine, but it says “Chilean” on the sign, so that’s good enough for me. They serve sandwiches on these freshly baked flat loaves about the size of a pita but maybe five times as thick. They put chicken or steak on the bread, then steamed green beans — apparently that’s the authentic Chilean touch — plus Muenster, tomatoes, avocado spread, a creamy hot sauce (that’s very hot), and salt and pepper.

The shop, called “Chacarero” (which apparently means “chacarero”) started with a pushcart, then a lunch counter (in the old Filene’s building, which is now just an empty hole in the ground), then two full-blown restaurants.

But apparently things aren’t going well anymore, because they abruptly closed one of the two restaurants, and the other one seems less busy. And if you ask me, it’s because they’re making a mistake that many small law firms make.…

They make it difficult to pay them.

You see, Chacarero doesn’t take credit cards. If you buy a sandwich and a drink, you’re pretty much looking at paying ten bucks. And seriously, who carries cash anymore? It’s a pain in the neck. Worse, you usually end up with a pocketful of change afterward, making your pants jingle while you walk back to the office. (OK, that didn’t sound right.)

A while back, they experimented with taking credit cards. They placed a mininum amount that you could charge; I forget what it was. But it was much more convenient to plop down my debit card than to worry about whether I had been to the ATM recently. Unfortunately, their credit-card experiment didn’t last very long, and their Province Street shop didn’t last much longer after that.

Let me be clear: I have no idea why they closed the store, and for all I know it had nothing to do with credit cards. Maybe they got sick of green beans.

But nevertheless, there’s a lesson here for small law firms — or for any business, really:

Make it as easy as possible for your customers to give you money.

I’m not saying it was that much of a big deal to pay for my Chilean goodness with greenbacks. I often had a few bucks in my wallet, mostly for nostalgic reasons. And I solved the bullion issue when I got back to the office by dumping my change in an extra recycling bin under my desk. So in terms of absolute hassle, paying cash at the Chac wasn’t the hardest thing to do.

But that’s not the point. Absolute hassles (which economists would call “total costs“) are not what drive human behavior; marginal costs are. In this case, the marginal cost of having to go to an ATM before going to Chacarero is that one extra step that will make me go to the wrap place across the street (which takes cards).

Restaurants, stores, and other businesses that shun credit cards usually do so to avoid the charges that come with accepting them. But give me a break. Most credit-card charges for merchants run in the three-percent range. I guarantee that Chacarero would more than make up in increased business what it lost in three-percent service charges. Besides, they could always raise their prices three percent. Instead of charging eight bucks for a sandwich, charge $8.25. You think anyone would notice the difference?

Same goes with law firms. Many lawyers eschew credit cards because they think they’re tacky and unprofessional and retail. As if. Doctors have been accepting credit cards for decades now, and trust me, people respect them far more than they respect lawyers. So that leaves the three-percent problem. Simple. If your rate is $250 an hour, just raise it to $260. You’re worth more, anyway. And now you’ve covered your service charges.

Small firms have plenty of options for accepting credit cards. Banks will set up a merchant account for you without much hassle. PayPal has a service that allows customers to pay you with credit cards. (I’ve used it.) So does American Express. (Haven’t tried it yet.) So quit making excuses. Make it as easy as possible for clients to give you money.

Then you can go out and buy as many Chilean green-bean sandwiches as you want.

Jay Shepherd has run the Boston management-side employment-law boutique Shepherd Law Group for the past 13 years. Jay also runs Prefix, LLC, which helps lawyers and clients value and price legal services. He writes the ABA Blawg 100 honoree The Client Revolution, which focuses on reinventing the business of law, and Gruntled Employees, a workplace blog. Follow Jay on Twitter at @jayshep, or email him at

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