Credit Card Surcharges Revisited

Remember the Payment Card Interchange Fee Settlement?

Processing credit card payments is a fact of life for today’s law firm. So are costly surcharges – the fee assessed by your bank or credit card processor for the privilege of accepting this form of payment.

In 2015 – 2016, some Oregon law firms took the position that the Payment Card Interchange Fee Settlement (PCIFS) permitted them to pass on credit card surcharges to clients.  As a reminder, the PCIFS was a class action settlement among merchants, Visa, MasterCard, and other defendants. American Express and Discover were not part of the litigation.  Applying the conditions of the settlement to a service-based industry like the legal profession was always tenuous at best.

Regardless, using the PCIFS as a justification for passing on credit card surcharges became moot in mid-2016 when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded approval of the settlement.

The Post-PCIFS Era

If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’m an ardent advocate of absorbing credit card surcharges as a cost of doing business. This doesn’t mean watching money fly out the door without recourse.  It does mean you shouldn’t pass on surcharges as a separate cost item to the client.  Consider:

  • Assessing surcharges (or crediting clients for the net amount less fees) involves extra administrative and bookkeeping steps.  If you get the math wrong and the transaction involves trust account funds, you could face disciplinary action.
  • Firms who want to charge for credit cards often bill clients for postage, faxing, scanning, and photocopying.  These items already rate high on the client annoyance scale.  Pass on surcharges and that scale may tip.
  • Ethically, clients are not obliged to pay any cost to which they did not agree.  If you did not include the right to assess surcharges in your fee agreement, you cannot unilaterally pass on the cost after the fact.  Granted, you can fix this by modifying your fee agreement – but it isn’t necessarily advisable and may not be successful.  See OSB Formal Opinion 2005-97.
  • Fees can be adjusted to reflect this, and other, costs of doing business.
  • Surcharges are outright illegal in some states and capped in others.
  • Passing on surcharges may trigger compliance with Regulation Z of the Truth in Lending Act:

Passing the merchant fee on to the client or crediting the client for the net amount of the transaction only … may implicate Regulation Z of the Truth in Lending Act, 12 CFR §226.  As a result, you may be compelled to offer cash discounts to all clients and make specified disclosures to your clients who pay by credit card.  See CONSUMER LAW IN OREGON ch 14 (Oregon CLE 1996 & Supp 2000).  OSB Legal Ethics Opinion No. 2005-172.

As Before: Proceed at Your Own Risk

If you want to assess surcharges, do your own research and proceed at your own risk.

I leave you with these words of wisdom from LawPay, a popular credit card processor serving the legal profession:

While your state may allow you to pass on transaction fees to clients, think carefully before doing so. Potential clients will not expect a higher fee simply because they use a different form of payment. In today’s market the best practice may be to simply absorb these fees yourself as the cost of doing business.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

Digital File Retention

 

If your answer to the poll was “yes,” or “I should,” give yourself a pat on the back.

If you don’t have a digital file retention policy, or more specifically, don’t believe you need a policy, please consider the following:

The more data you store, the more you must protect, and it isn’t free

Data protection is costly and doesn’t end with buying a server. If your firm stores digital files in-house, you must maintain your investment.  This means replacing obsolete storage media, preserving and testing backups, purchasing cybersecurity coverage, investing in and updating security software, budgeting for internal or outsourced IT services, and recovering from data theft, data breach, or system crashes if they occur. Cloud storage may alleviate some of this, although best practices dictate that cloud storage should be secondary to keeping on-premise copies of your data.

The duty to safeguard

Protection isn’t just a matter of out-of-pocket expenses, it has real ethical significance:

Taken together, Rule 1.6(c) and Rule
5.3 require a lawyer to take steps to prevent
disclosure of client information
through the misuse of technology, by
themselves or by any technology vendor
on which the lawyer relies. A lawyer’s
reasonable efforts to protect client data
might include reviewing a third-party
vendor’s terms of service to ensure that
they comply with industry standards relating
to confidentiality and security, and
that those standards are consistent with
the lawyer’s own professional obligations.

Mark Johnson Roberts, “Electronic Competence: As Technology Advances, So Must a Lawyer’s Understanding of It,” OSB Bulletin (June 2017).

If you place no limitations on digital file storage and something bad happens, more client data is exposed. Why would you want to take that risk?

Keep it and retrieve it

If you get into the perpetual storage business, be prepared to retrieve what you keep. Adhering to file retention recommendations and ethical requirements is one thing. Digging up records from 20, 30, or 40 years ago because you’ve chosen not to enforce a destruction policy is something else.

Setting reasonable digital file retention policies

For guidance on file retention, contact your local ethics hotline or professional liability carrier.  In Oregon, the following resources are available from the Professional Liability Fund. Select Practice Management > Forms.

  • Checklist for Scanning Client Files
  • File Retention and Destruction Guidelines
  • Production of Client File
  • Retention of Electronic Records

Mid-size and larger firms should consider a membership in ARMA, the Association of Records Managers and Administrators.  Another good resource is AIIM, the global community of information professionals.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

 

 

Oregon eService CLE

Registration is now open for
Oregon eService, scheduled for June 6, 2018 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:15 a.m., PDT.

This live, online webinar is for experts and novices alike. An opportunity to polish skills and apply tips straight from the courthouse or understand eService from the ground up.

Topics include:

Using eService

  • How to eServe in four easy steps
  • Service of process in the eFiling world: UTCR 21.100
  • Six compelling reasons to use eService

Identifying eService Exceptions

  • To eServe or not to eServe

Responding to Service Contact Issues

  • Requirements of UTCR 21.100(2)(a)
  • Pursuing sanctions under UTCR 1.090(2)
  • Best practice recommendations

Deliberating the Case of: eService vs. Service by Email

  • UTCR 21.100(4) vs. ORCP 9G
  • Pros, cons, and myths of service by email
  • Best practice recommendations

Drawing on Courthouse Wisdom: Do’s and Don’ts

  • How to use the “filing on behalf of” field
  • Should you or shouldn’t you serve yourself?
  • Multiple service methods
  • How to copy firm members on filings
  • Proper Certificates of Service
  • And more!

Getting Help and Improving eFile & Serve

  • Get assistance and give your input

Register Now
$25 – Visit the Upcoming CLE page or choose the registration link below. Secure payment processing powered by Eventbrite. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted. Program materials included in the registration price.

REGISTER NOW
Oregon eService CLE

 FAQs

Are group discounts available?
Discounts are available to firms who register 5 or more attendees. Contact me for a discount code before you register: beverly@oregonlawpracticemanagement.org.

Do the Programs Include Written Materials? 
Yes. Written materials are distributed electronically to attendees.

Are questions welcome?
Absolutely. Questions may be submitted any time during the live event or afterward via email. Attendees are also encouraged to participate in live, anonymous polling.

Where is the program being held?
This program is a live, online webinar.

MCLE Credits
1.25 practical skills/general MCLE credits have been approved by the Oregon State Bar.

Can’t Attend?
Video and audio recordings will be available to download along with the program materials shortly after the live program event.  Price: $25. Contact me or visit my online CLE store to place an order.

Best Practices for Docketing, Conflicts, Disengagement, and File Retention

This is the last call for Best Practices for Docketing, Conflicts, Disengagement, and File Retention scheduled for April 11, 2018 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., PDT. This live, online webinar is the second in a two-part series on effective and ethical office systems.
Topics include:

Docketing

  • Learning the attributes of effective docketing systems
  • Appreciating the duty of due diligence
  • Docketing tips for eCourt practitioners: knowing where to go, forwarding notices, calculating deadlines, understanding the Register of Actions, enlisting proper email management

Conflicts

  • Recognizing ethical traps
  • Establishing system objectives: who to screen and when to screen
  • Comparing software applications
  • Streamlining conflict checking using forms, checklists, procedures, and letters
  • Recording conflict results

Disengagement and file retention

  • Meeting your ethical obligations under Oregon RPC 1.16
  • Simplifying disengagement with forms
  • Protecting clients and limiting liability exposure
  • Creating policies, procedures, and checklists
  • Accessing resources

Register Now
$25 – Visit the Upcoming CLE page or choose the registration link below. Secure payment processing powered by Eventbrite. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted. Program materials included in the registration price.

REGISTER NOW
Best Practices for Docketing, Conflicts, Disengagement, and File Retention

 FAQs

Are group discounts available?
Discounts are available to firms who register 5 or more attendees. Contact me for a discount code before you register beverly@oregonlawpracticemanagement.org.

Do the Programs Include Written Materials? 
Yes. Written materials are distributed electronically to attendees.

Are questions welcome?
Absolutely. Questions may be submitted any time during the live event or afterward via email. Attendees are also encouraged to participate in live, anonymous polling.

Where are the programs being held?
This program will be a live, online webinar.

MCLE Credits
1.0 practical skills pending.

Can’t Attend?
Video and audio recordings of the April 11 CLE will be available to download along with the program materials shortly after the live program event.
Price: $25. Contact me or visit my online CLE store to place an order.

Bidding Adieu to TECHSHOW

Last month I highlighted the ever-popular “60 in 60” tips, websites, gadgets, and resources from the 2018 ABA TECHSHOW as well as some great advice from security experts. Before we say goodbye to 2018 entirely and turn our thoughts to 2019, I wanted to share some of the other stories I curated from this conference:

If any of these topics interest you, click on the links above to learn more.  See you next week at Best Practices for Docketing, Conflicts, Disengagement, and File Retention.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis