eChecks and eCourt

The most recent issue of the Capitol Insider reminded bar members that OJD eFiling now accepts electronic checks (eChecks) as a payment method.  You can setup an eCheck account at the OJD HTML 5 eFiling Site.  (If you’re still using the “Silverlight” version of OJD eFiling go here.)

What are eChecks?

The term “eCheck” attempts to lend a familiar name to a new(er) process, but the descriptor also leads to confusion.  

What eChecks are not

  • eChecks are not “checks” in the traditional sense. 
  • They require no special setup.
  • There is no cost to using eChecks.
  • You don’t have to visit your bank to start using eChecks.

What eChecks Are

  • A way to send electronic payments directly from your bank account.
  • Equivalent to electronic transfers or ACH payments.
  • Used by merchants like PayPal.

What do I need to know to pay by eCheck?

If you have a bank account and know your routing and account numbers, you can pay by eCheck.


eCheck payments generally clear within 24-48 hours.

Are there any advantages to using eChecks?


  • The May issue of the Capitol Insider reports that using eChecks will “keep costs down and limit future increases in filing fees.” This makes sense because eChecks eliminate credit card processing fees. Paying by eCheck is free to both parties – the payor/eFiler and the payee/OJD. It is a bank-to-bank transaction.
  • Bookkeeping will be simpler for OSB eFilers. Paying eFiling fees by credit card requires the extra step of reconciling your credit card statement to your eCourt account. And there is also the matter of billing. Even if you bill or post a filing fee expense to your client’s account when it is incurred, this only improves the timing of your reimbursement – it doesn’t shorten the accounting steps.
  • You now have the flexibility to easily use your trust account as a source of paying filing fees. (A debit card tied to your trust account is also permissible, but be sure to take proper steps to protect client funds.)
  • Lawyers who don’t have credit cards won’t be forced to get one just to use the OJD eFiling system.
  • Lawyers who can’t get credit cards will no longer be penalized.
  • Firms won’t have to set up special reminders to renew or update credit card information in OJD eFiling accounts, since routing and bank account numbers never expire. Do remember to update your payment information if you change banks!

Do you currently have a debit or credit card dedicated to paying eCourt filing fees?

If yes, and you make the switch to eChecks, quit using your debit or credit card for eCourt filing fees. This starts the process of closing your account. Verify that all pending transactions have been processed. Reconcile your final card statement, bill clients, then wait an additional month before you direct your bank or processor cancel your account. There should be no more debit or credit activity during this time. Assuming all transactions are accounted for, close your account. Remember to delete your debit or credit card from the OJD eFiling system.


If your debit/credit card is used for other purposes beyond paying eCourt fees, ignore this advice.

How do I set up eCheck payments?

Users can create an eCheck payment account under Payment Accounts in FIRM ADMIN. If you need help with this process on the HMTL 5 site, download the Firm Administrator Guide 3.15 available here.  You can also get help with this step from the vendor, Tyler Technologies:

New Terms of Use

With the addition of eChecks as a payment method, the OJD and Tyler Technologies Terms of Use have been updated. View the new TOU here

All Rights Reserved 2017 Beverly Michaelis

PayPal: Lawyer’s Friend or Foe?

PayPal is a very tempting credit card processing service with nice extras like Web site integration and online invoicing.  There is no disputing its familiarity or popularity.  But before you jump on the PayPal bandwagon, do your homework

  1. Is it less expensive or more expensive than comparable services
  2. Is the Web interface user-friendly
  3. How long will PayPal hold your funds before disbursement?  (This has been a problem for some users.)  

The solution is to comparison shop.  All banks offer credit card processing, so check with your branch first.  Other options include:

If you prefer processors who cater to the legal profession consider:

To be clear, I had never heard of Lawyer Payments or Atticcus until I ran a Google search.  I’m not aware of any lawyers using these services, so conduct your due diligence – always a good idea when choosing a credit card processor.  Also of note: In 2011 Beacon Processing Solutions appeared to discontinue serving the legal profession, preferring to focus on doctors instead.  I’m happy to say that as of 2012 they are back in the business of offering specific credit card processing solutions for lawyers.

How One Lawyer Does It

Georgia Lawyer Leslie Stewart offers PayPal directly on her Web site with direct links for incremental payments of $200, $300, or $500  [scroll to the bottom of her page].  Clients are told:

“The retainer fee paid via the Internet can be paid by check or credit card.  Both of these require the use of a third party verification service, in this case,  You must register and provide information to them to ensure that you are the person paying the fee and it is from verifiable funds. 

You are not charged an additional fee for using  With a payment by electronic check or credit card, lawyer and client both agree that these funds are a prepayment for immediate compensation for the lawyer’s commitment to perform future services, e.g., a flat-fee agreement, the funds are the property of the lawyer and may be deposited in the lawyer’s operating or business account. will remit payment to this office to be deposited in said account.

If you do not wish to enter into this arrangement, then you are welcome to mail us a check. 

Online payment will take place only after Attorney and Client have entered into an agreement concerning fees.”

Ethical Compliance: Payment Methods are Irrelevant

Make certain any terms you include on your Web site are fully compliant with the Oregon Rules of Professional Conduct.  For example, the above site contradicts itself by initially referring to the fee paid via PayPal as a “retainer fee” then later as a “prepayment for immediate compensation for the lawyer’s commitment to perform future services.”

Make your language clear, simple, and consistent. 

If your intention is to collect a fixed fee earned upon receipt, say so. See Oregon Formal Ethics Opinion 2005-151:  Fee Agreements: Fixed Fees.  A sample fixed fee/earned upon receipt fee agreement is available on the PLF Web site.  [This can be offered as a click-through agreement if desired.]

If the client is remitting a retainer for fees that have not yet been earned, and there is no written earned upon receipt fee agreement, the funds are NOT the property of the lawyer and must be deposited in your IOLTA Account.  See The Top 10 Trust Account Questions: Safekeeping Funds

Remember: the method of payment (cash, check, echeck, wire transfer, credit card) is completely irrelevant.  If the funds are earned by your actions (you did the work and billed the client) or by contract (you have a written, signed earned upon receipt fee agreement) they are yours and should be deposited into your business account. 

If the funds are not yet earned, use your IOLTA account.

Final Thoughts

Read more insightful tips about accepting credit cards in this article from GPSOLO and in this post from the Lawyerist.  For ethical limitations relating to credit card payments, see FAQ About Credit Cards.

15 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Trust Account

From – Trust Accounting: Your Financial and Ethical Responsibilities, presented May 12, 2011 – Q & A with Helen Hierschbiel, OSB General Counsel

Removing Earned Fees

Earned fees must be removed from the lawyer trust account promptly.  Can you wait a day or two?  Yes.  Can you wait a week?  A month?  Longer?  No.

Separate Interest-Bearing Accounts

You can only bill a reasonable amount to establish and maintain a separate interest-bearing account for a client.  An hourly rate of $300-400 per hour is not reasonable.  A charge of $25 or $50 may be reasonable.

Credit Cards

Proceed cautiously before attempting to pass credit card transaction fees on to clients.  Lawyers should be aware that “…charging the client for the transaction fee may implicate Regulation Z of the Truth in Lending Act, 12 CFR pt 226, requiring that the lawyer make certain specific disclosures to the client and offer cash discounts to all clients.”  See CONSUMER LAW IN OREGON ch 14 (Oregon CLE 1996 & Supp 2005).

It is permissible to deposit your own funds into the IOLTA account to cover reasonably anticipated credit card merchant fees, but you must make some effort to approximate the amount of those fees.  In other words, look back on the average fees assessed when determining the amount of your advance deposit.

If you are accepting credit card payments that belong in trust, you cannot use a Visa holding account for your merchant account, unless the Visa holding account is an IOLTA account.  See Formal Ethics Opinion 2005-172.

Credit card chargebacks can put client funds in peril.  Either have an arrangement with the bank that they will take chargebacks out of your business account or arrange for an immediate transfer of funds from your business account to your trust account.

PayPal, EFTs, and Wire Transfers

If the client is paying through PayPal, you have no control over the payment process.  Remember that regardless of how funds originate, if you receive money that is unearned, the funds must be deposited into the lawyer trust account.

If the client sends you a combination of fees and costs, some of which are earned, some of which are unearned, you can always deposit the full amount in the IOLTA account, and then transfer out the earned portion.  It does not matter how the client remits payment (by electronic fund transfer or otherwise.)

If your client is depositing unearned fees in your business account via wire transfer without your consent, explain to the client that is not where the funds belong, then promptly transfer the funds.  You must make an effort to educate your client and control how the funds are deposited.  You cannot acquiesce to the funds being improperly deposited into your business account if they are not earned.

Fee Disputes

If you have already paid yourself when the client disputes the bill, you do not have an obligation to replenish the trust account.  However, if the client disputes the bill before you have paid yourself, then you are obligated to keep the disputed amount in the trust account until the dispute is resolved.   Pay yourself any amount that is undisputed, but retain the disputed funds in trust.

Liens, Garnishments, and Third Party Fee Arrangements

Review Formal Ethics Opinion 2005-52 to understand your obligations when third party liens or claims are made against trust funds.  If a third party is entitled to the particular funds in your lawyer trust account, you are obligated to remit those funds even if your client protests.  However, not all third parties are entitled to the trust proceeds they are seeking.  Read the opinion carefully.

Does a client’s right to the settlement proceeds take priority over a writ of garnishment or lien?  What if you have a valid lien and a valid writ of garnishment?  Look to the substantive law to resolve these disputes.  Ask yourself who has priority to the funds, if anyone.  If everyone has equal rights to the money, and funds are insufficient, you can apportion the available funds by agreement or seek a resolution in court.

Contrary to popular belief, client trust account funds are subject to garnishment.  Responding to a garnishment is not “revealing information relating to the representation of a client” since you are obligated by law to respond to the writ.

If your bill is being paid by third party, you can agree that any unused fees will be refunded to the third party (and not the client).  (As with all fee arrangements, it is recommended that you reduce your agreement to writing.)


If you suspect embezzlement, you are obligated to investigate.  If you believe funds have been embezzled, you should report the theft to the police (even if the authorities do not act on the report) and inform your clients if trust funds were taken.  Oregon Rule of Professional Conduct 8.3(a) states that: “A lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects shall inform the Oregon State Bar Client Assistance Office.”

Copyright 2011 Beverly Michaelis

Use Your Cell Phone to Swipe Credit Cards

Here’s an interesting idea.  Several vendors are now offering small credit card scanners that plug into your cell phone.  For a small fee, you can turn your phone into a credit card processing terminal. 

The service is offered by PayPal, Intuit, VeriFone, Square and others.  Apple is working on a cell phone payment system.  Read more in this New York Times Business/Technology article.

Thanks for the heads-up Laura Calloway!

Copyright 2010 Beverly Michaelis