When I suggested this concept on the State Bar of Michigan Family Law Section listserv (email discussion group) earlier this year, several members responded that accepting credit card payments at the court house, real estate closing, etc., on a lawyer's cell phone seemed "unprofessional." While I can sympathize with that increasingly quaint notion, the reality is that we need to get paid in order to continue to serve our clients. There is nothing particularly professional about going bankrupt because we failed to utilize all reasonable methods to secure payment for our services.
The issue of credit card payments via cell phone came up again yesterday while I was attending the State Bar of Michigan annual meeting in Grand Rapids. I checked my email and there was a message from a neighbor who is also a fellow board member in a non-profit organization that supports our local National Park. This guy is, to say the least, financially sophisticated, having retired not too long ago as CEO of the New York Stock Exchange. He passed along to me a link to an article by David Pogue in the New York Times about Square.
Square is a credit card processing service that works using a small card swipe attachment that plugs into the headphone/microphone jack of an iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, or Android phone. The merchant fees charged by Square are reasonable. For each transaction, Square charges you 2.75 percent of the total, plus 15 cents. That’s a lot simpler, and usually cheaper, than actual merchant accounts, where you might pay 3 or 4 percent, depending on the kind of card, plus 30 cents a transaction. The account itself is free, and so is the swipe attachment. You can also accept payments without swiping the card (such as via telephone) if you have the card number, expiration date, and security code, but the fees are a bit higher.
The reason my fellow non-profit board member brought Pogue's article to my attention is that our group will be selling hand-made ceramic bowls as a fundraiser at an upcoming event and also soliciting new members. It would be much easier to sell bowls at $12 each and sign-up new members at $25 annually if we could accept credit cards at the event, which is at a local botanical park. The only way to do that would be by cell phone. So I signed up on behalf of the non-profit organization and, according to Square, my swipe attachment to use with my Android phone is on its way. I will let you know how it works.
I continue to think that this would be a great way for lawyers to get paid, especially for those single-event representations such as certain criminal family, and real estate matters can to be. You finish your work and, if you have not been paid up front (always preferred), or if the task took longer than the initial payment would cover, you can accept payment via credit card using your iPhone or Android phone before the client departs (sometimes never to be seen or heard from again).
Does this seem a bit awkward? Perhaps. But a decade ago some lawyers still thought that accepting credit card payments at the office was improper. Maybe some still do. I know that the first year my two-lawyer firm started accepting credit cards in the mid-1990's, our gross revenue increased by about $100,000 over the prior year. That answered the question for me. It also helped that a good client (we handled his divorce and subsequent child custody battle) thanked us for accepting credit cards. His fees to my firm earned him enough airline miles to pay for his honeymoon in Hawaii when he eventually remarried. Now that is a "win-win" proposition.