Ethics Opinion 23
Canon 2—Use of Credit Cards for Paying for Legal ServicesA member of the Bar inquires whether it is ethically proper for attorneys to permit their clients to make payments for legal services through the use of credit cards.
Subject to the limitations and conditions specified below, we believe that credit card payments by clients are proper. The limitations and conditions are, with some modifications, those stated in Formal Opinion 338 of the ABA Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, dated November 16, 1974. In that opinion the ABA Committee said that it believed that the Code of Professional Responsibility had overruled ABA Informal Opinion 1176, which was to the effect that it was unprofessional under the Canons of Professional Ethics for lawyers to allow the use of credit cards to pay for their legal services. We agree.
These are the conditions and limitations on the permitted use of credit cards that this Committee, in general agreement with the ABA Committee, believes are required by the Code:
- All publicity and advertising relating to a credit card plan shall satisfy all pertinent requirements of the Code;1
- No directory of any kind shall be printed or published of the names of individual attorney members who subscribe to the credit card plan;
- No promotional materials of any kind will be supplied by the credit card company to a participating attorney except possibly small insignia to be tactfully displayed in the attorney’s office indicating his participation in the use of the credit card;
- A lawyer shall not encourage participation in the plan, but his position must be that he accepts the plan as a convenience for clients who desire it; and the lawyer may not because of his participation increase his fee for legal services rendered the client;
- Charges made by lawyers to clients pursuant to a credit card plan shall be only for services actually rendered or cash actually paid on behalf of a client;
- In participating in a credit card program the attorney shall scrupulously observe his obligation to preserve the confidences and secrets of his client.2
The ABA Committee said, correctly, that “(a) necessary corollary to the use of credit cards is the charging of interest on delinquent accounts.” This Committee’s views on the general question of lawyers’ charging interest on delinquent accounts are stated in its Opinion No. 11.
- The ABA Committee proposes as the first condition that all publicity and advertising relating to a lawyer’s participation in a credit card plan be subject to the prior approval in writing of the cognizant state or local bar committee.
- This committee rejected a prior approval requirement.Certain of the conditions and limitations prescribed might be affected by adoption of the revision of Canon 2 recommended by the Committee to the Board of Governors and by the Board to the D.C. Court of Appeals.