In October 1969, the Texas Ethics Commission issued an opinion stating:
An attorney may honor a reputable credit card or similar device in the payment of his fee, but may not display an emblem, window decal or desk emblem displaying his acceptance of such credit card.
The Committee members reasoned that collecting legal fees with a credit card is "no different from acceptance of a check in payment of legal services," even though some members dissented calling an "easy payment plan" unethical and a violation of Canons 11 and 24. Fortunately, times have changed, and payment options have evolved dramatically.
One of the more popular options for financial transactions is Venmo, a peer-to-peer payment system that allows parties to transact business and transfer money digitally via their smartphones. Users simply download the Venmo app to begin exchanging payments. It all seems easy enough, as the Millennials who use it so freely to split the bar tab can attest. For lawyers, however, particularly solo practitioners attracted by the efficiency and convenience of digital payment systems, the risks of using Venmo or any other peer-to-peer payment solution such as Zellepay or SquareCash are worth considering. Critics recognize the benefits of this alternative payment technology but still say that collecting legal fees via an app is fraught with ethical pitfalls.
As of yet, it appears that states have not yet weighed in on the ethics of using these services, and the ABA does include peer-to-peer systems as an alternative payment method but cautions users to choose a service that offers the same kinds of protections provided by other payment options, such as credit cards, debit cards, ACH, and wire transfers.
As with the debate around credit cards more almost 50 years ago, there are proponents and detractors of using peer-to-peer payment methods. The trend does seem to be growing, even in the professional world, and may be something to explore further: