Do Crypto Payments Present an Ethical Conundrum for Attorneys?

by | Nov 13, 2019 | Management | 0 comments

Attorneys throughout the United States and beyond are attempting to figure out if they can accept crypto payments.  There is a question as to whether the acceptance of crypto payments is legal or even moral.  Below, we delve into this issue to shed light on whether crypto payments are acceptable in the context of legal work.

The First Official Opinion on Attorneys Accepting Crypto Payments

Every attorney is looking for clear instruction as to whether accepting cryptocurrencies is ethical.  Thankfully, at least one ethics board is providing some guidance.  A Nebraska ethics board weighed in on the crypto payment issues exactly two years ago.  This ethics board’s ruling is that attorneys who are paid in a cryptocurrency must convert it to U.S. dollars without delay.  This conclusion holds water as several other states have referenced it when handling their own cryptocurrency issues in the context of attorney payment.

There is a distinction to make between accepting cryptocurrencies as a form of advanced payment or as payment for a fee that has already been earned.  If the value of the cryptocurrency changes from the point it was provided as an advanced payment until the point at which the money is earned, the attorney will be in murky legal and ethical waters.  Furthermore, there is always the potential for the client to cut ties with the attorney before the work is complete.  If the value of the cryptocurrency changes in this period of time, the attorney will have to decide if the entire amount should be refunded as originally paid or if the value must be adjusted based on the dynamics of cryptocurrency.  Complicating matters is the fact that the IRS considers cryptocurrencies to be property as opposed to currency.

Accepting Cryptocurrency for Enhanced Client Convenience

The data indicates more and more law firms are accepting cryptocurrency as a method of payment.  In particular, Bitcoin is especially popular among attorneys willing to accept cryptocurrency.  It is possible cryptocurrencies will become so popular that attorneys who refuse to accept it are at a competitive disadvantage.  It is quite possible attorneys who accept cryptocurrencies will bring that many more clients into the fold, especially coveted millennial clients who are likely to need legal services for decades to come.  This is precisely why attorneys should consider cryptocurrency as a step into the future that modernizes their law firm as opposed to a risky form of payment.

Proceed With Caution

Attorneys interested in accepting cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin should know there is nothing illegal about taking such payment.  However, there is the potential for cryptocurrency value to fluctuate in a short period of time.  Recognize this risk prior to accepting crypto payment, adjust accordingly, and your business just might bring in that many more clients thanks to your enhanced payment flexibility.


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