Money, Small Law Firms, Technology

The Practice: Credit Cards, House Calls, Text Messages — Are They Beneath You?

In the late 90’s, lawyers taking credit cards was not the norm.

Stores took credit cards. Restaurants took credit cards. Lawyers took checks and wire transfers, and yes, cash in rubber bands. It was typical lawyer arrogance and ego – taking credit cards turned the lawyer in to a merchant, and paying a portion of the fee (because if you check your state ethics rules and opinions you may find you cannot charge the client for the percentage you pay the credit card company… oops) for the convenience of the client being able to “charge it” was seen as unattractive.

I didn’t take credit cards at first, a couple years later I started, and now I take them under certain conditions. One, I don’t advertise that I take credit cards. No signs on my door, no indication on invoices. If the client asks, the answer is yes, but like many places, there is a minimum amount (and no, it’s not $20). For volume-type lawyers who charge small fees, credit cards are a great way to sign up clients and maintain a good cash flow. For those with bigger fees and smaller practices, it’s a last resort for that client that you believe may have an issue paying, or who just can’t come up with the retainer unless it’s charged on a credit card.

Visa and Mastercard rates are lower than AMEX, but in the end, you’re looking at getting about 96% of the fee once the percentage and transaction fees are paid. If you can’t survive on that, I can’t help you.

What about house calls?

I still make house calls, about once a year.

I use the term “house call” liberally. A house call can be someone’s house or office, or a mutually agreed upon location, and no, never a Starbucks. It’s never for someone who calls that I don’t know, and I never offer to make the visit. If the client asks, I consider the relationship, the convenience, and the purpose. The client may be someone I’ve known for many years that is on my way home and doesn’t want to be seen headed to my office.

Many lawyers act like car salesmen when it comes to meeting clients. Yes, I have a nice office, with nice crap on the walls, classical music, and free coffee, but I don’t need you to “come in” to make the “sale.” I like clients to come to the office because it makes my life easier, but my practice is one of relationships. Everything I do, and you too, makes the attorney/client relationship either better, or worse. There is no neutral. The clients are happy when you call, happy when you call with good news, angry when they don’t hear from you, and angrier when they hear bad news. If I can go out of my way and do something the client may not expect to better an already good relationship, I’m not beneath that, and hope that I never am.

And I text with clients.

When I meet with a new client, I ask how they want to communicate. Phone? Email? Where do they want me to send mail? Do they want me to send mail? And yes, would they prefer text?

Why should I care how the client wants to communicate? This is the client’s case. If they don’t want to see a document in their mailbox and would rather come to the office and sit in my conference to review it, so what? If they want copies of every single piece of paper for their “own file,” and I don’t see that as a danger to their case, fine. When I communicate by email or text message, it’s never with sensitive information, i.e., no talking about things that are not public record, case strategies, or serious, detailed discussions about the case. I tell the client to refrain from doing the same. I may tell the client “the deposition was cancelled, call me later,” or “court went fine, case is set for November 1.” If the client wants short electronic messages just to stay informed, that’s their choice. I can archive them for my file, and maintain a record just like those stupid .3 letters everyone likes to write.

Failure to communicate is the number one reason bar complaints are filed. If I can communicate with my clients on a level they request — as long as they agree to the terms, and there is no special reason to refrain from that type of communication — I’m not going to say no.

That’s it, nothing else. Just three things for small law firms to consider before I take another week off. That’s right kids, I won’t be here next Monday. I know, another vacation.

Don’t be jealous, it’s beneath you.

Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at

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