Doug Bend, Bend Law Group, PC
Bend Law specializes in helping all types of entrepreneurs—from those working by themselves out of a home office to large companies working across dozens of states and countries with hundreds of employees.
Doug Bend, Managing Partner at Bend Law, and his team work with new business owners to help them make the best decisions to achieve their goals.
“We advise clients on business transactional matters, such as starting a company, raising capital, negotiating contracts, and selling their company,” says Doug. “We serve as their outside general counsel to give them the best advice for their business.”
Part of doing business is making good decisions for his own firm. When it came to deciding whether to offer his clients the option to pay by credit card, Doug needed to weigh the options.
“It’s something I really went back and forth on when I first started the practice,” says Doug.
Weighing the cost to the time saved
Doug saw credit cards as an alternative to accepting checks, which took time to process—time that could be dedicated to other work. Clients also take time to write and mail a check, and if they’re behind in their own collections, Doug might have to send several invoices before they finally get paid. Then there’s the chance that a check won’t clear, which requires more time and effort to resolve.
“I got tired of hearing, ‘The check is in the mail!’ Sometimes it would be in the mail, and sometimes it wouldn’t,” says Doug.
But would accepting credit cards save enough time to justify the associated transaction costs?
“You look at a successful law firm, and gross revenue is important, but what’s most important is net revenue. Part of that equation is the expenses for the law firm. Early on most try to keep their expenses in check, and on the one hand that’s a good idea. On the other hand, software like Clio really pays for itself, and I wish I hadn’t waited a year to sign up for it.”
Allowing clients to pay by credit card means getting paid faster, which ultimately pays off for Doug’s firm. “Do I want to be spending time hounding people on their invoices, or is it worth it to give them an option to pay with a credit card online—and get more of those invoices paid quicker—to open up more of my time for other things?” says Doug.
For many of his clients who are used to living cash free, and who rely on their credit card for the bulk of their transactions, the added service is much appreciated. Doug says, “They’re more excited to pay their invoices when they get credit card points from paying their legal bills—they’re a little more eager to pay them than when they need to handwrite a check.”
“People are busy,” he says. “Giving them an option to click and pay within a matter of seconds, so we can move on with the actual work, is something that’s worth the transaction charge.”
Industry-compliant, online trust depositing
Bend Law charges both based on flat fees and hourly rates depending on the type of work. For example, raising a round of capital investment typically has several variables— the number of investors, state rules being applied, and the number of filings being submitted—which makes it difficult to determine how long each project might take.
In California, the state bar requires that all hourly work must be paid into an attorney-client trust account before being paid to the firm, and all trust deposits and accounting must comply with strict industry rules.
Doug initially looked into services like Square and PayPal as options for their online transactions, but by default these services would deposit funds to the firm’s operating funds instead of going directly to a dedicated retainer account, which is against industry rules.
Now, Doug uses Clio Payments, which uses LawPay to do all his credit card transactions in accordance with legal industry rules. This means that all trust deposits go directly into a retainer account, and all processing fees are balanced out from the firm’s operating account every month, which keeps him in compliance with regulators.
Beyond compliance, doing transactions through LawPay is actually less expensive than using other processing options.
“Because we do so much credit card processing, it’s actually less expensive to use LawPay,” says Doug. “The functionality of having the trust account balancing aspect is really icing on the cake.”
What does this look like at Doug’s firm? When taking on a new client, Doug sends an engagement remit with an invoice for an electronic trust request. The client can even pay the deposit before leaving the office, so that Doug and his team can get straight to work.
Saving time beyond transactions
When Doug first started his firm, he spent a lot of time tracking hours in a notepad, which he then transferred to a Google spreadsheet before putting that information into client invoices.
“About a year in I recognized that really the biggest headache for me was keeping track of my time and invoicing clients,” says Doug. “I did what a lot of law firms do, and that’s talk to other law firms about what they like. Several attorneys that I really respect had really great things to say about Clio. And now it’s really well integrated into our firm.”
Since he started using Clio, Doug logs all of his billable work and expenses in Clio, so that he can generate invoices quickly.
“We often pay government filing fees on behalf of clients,” says Doug. “Having an expense tab to keep track as we incur them has been a really great way for us to make sure that we’re reimbursed.”
When it comes to accepting payments, all payments and invoices are automatically linked with their respective matter numbers for easy reference. The payment status automatically updates in Clio, and that information syncs directly with their bookkeeper’s software, so that everyone has the most up-to-date information at all times.
With Clio, Doug also gets monthly reports on billable information and expenses across his firm so that he can see net revenues. “That ability to have those very accurate snapshots each month is really key to knowing the health of the firm and how is each attorney doing,” says Doug.
Better business sense
How firms bill and accept payments are ultimately part of offering great legal service. For clients who want to operate cash-free, who want to earn points on what they spend on a lawyer, Doug is happy to accommodate—especially when it makes sense to his business.
“I think a lot of how we run our law firm is based on how I was brought up, and just being very honest with people, very direct,” says Doug. “You ask about how we approach our clients, and it’s really about priding ourselves in giving the same legal advice to our clients that we would give to our family and friends. And that’s something that I think has resonated very well with our clients, and something that they appreciate.”