Spokane Journal of Business

Cd'A-based Macomber Law rolls out e-payment option

While others offer credit options, Macomber adds prefunding alternatives

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-—Staff photo by Mike McLean
Mountain West Bank's Joy Rogers and Coeur d'Alene attorney Art Macomber have set up an electronic payment option that Macomber says is more convenient.

Clients are looking for more convenient payment methods, such as online options, to pay for legal services, says at least one Inland Northwest attorney who is taking steps to accommodate that demand.

Macomber Law PLLC, of Coeur d'Alene, has teamed with Coeur d'Alene-based Mountain West Bank to offer online payments of current invoices, in addition to prepayment for legal services through client trust funds, says Art Macomber, principal at the solo legal practice.

The online options enable clients to pay for legal services through electronic bank transfers or credit card payments, says Art Macomber, principal at Macomber Law, a solo practice specializing in real estate and construction law.

Through the arrangement with the bank, Macomber Law assures protection of client-related payment information, while increasing the ability of clients to address critical legal matters by using credit or debit payment methods, Macomber says.

"Cash is very tight when closing escrow on commercial or residential transactions, and even during litigation, a credit payment may be preferable," Macomber says.

The Macomber Law website provides a link to the Mountain West Bank payment portal.

Macomber says such payment options are more common for law firms in large metropolitan areas, where more clients expect to use online options as their preferred method of payment.

The way the system is set up for Macomber Law, clients will have the option to pay online for routine legal work after it's completed. For more complex and lengthy cases, clients can set up trust accounts, which can accommodate advance payment for anticipated legal work and expenses, Macomber says.

Most attorneys who rely on such accounts, called interest on lawyer trust accounts, provide clients estimates for anticipated work so they have an idea of how much money to keep in the account, he says. Trust accounts provide attorneys some assurance of the client's intent and ability to pay for anticipated legal services.

Funds remain in the trust account, though, until a certain amount of legal work is performed.

"When work is completed, I generate an invoice and deduct from the trust account after a client receives and approves the invoice," Macomber says. "Then it's applied to my business account."

Macomber, who's licensed to practice in the states of Idaho, Washington, and Montana, says he advises clients to set up trust accounts in the states in which they live or own property. "From the state bar's perspective, it's the client's money while it's in the trust account," he says. "The client should want it to be subject to review and control by their state."

Mountain West Bank has branches or affiliates in all three states.

Any interest earned on such accounts goes to the state bar association in which the accounts are set up, Macomber says. Bar associations apply the interest to programs that fund law-related programs for indigent and underserved people.

Macomber says he chose the bank as the payment portal as an added measure of security for clients.

"I believe in client privacy, so that's the way I set it up," he says. "Why should my clients want their credit card information in my office? The bank's secure systems handle it the whole way."

Clients also have options to deposit one-time or recurring payments electronically.

"If a client is going to have to fund a lawsuit, they may want to set up a recurring credit-card payment in a trust account to keep the legal process moving," he says.

Macomber says he's seeing an ongoing trend to offer clients more convenient payment options.

"Nationally, this gets done quite a bit," he says, adding, "The American Bar Association and some of the bigger state bar associations have this as a topic."

He expects the new payment options will be especially convenient for clients in his field of practice.

"I've had quite a demand for it," he says. "We're moving from a stuffy law-office world to a world in which people want to use modern methods to pay their lawyer."

Here, though, there hasn't been much discussion about online payment trends by the Spokane County Bar Association, says Mark Wardrup, the association's assistant director.

"This is the first I'm hearing of it," he says.

Cooney Law Offices PS, which specializes in criminal, personal injury, family, and estate law, has offered an option for online payments via credit cards on the firm's website for at least three years, says James Huss, business manager, who made the option available for clients of the Spokane firm.

"I made the decision that it's going to help clients to offer them options to be able to pay us any way they can," Huss says. "If that's more convenient, that's great for us and great for them."

The eight-attorney firm had been accepting credit card payment via conventional means for a number of years prior to setting up the online option, he says.

While a minority of clients prefers the online payment option, the response has been more than sufficient to make that option worthwhile for the firm, Huss says.

Witherspoon Kelley, Spokane's largest law firm, with 42 attorneys based here, hasn't set up an online bank transfer payment system. The firm, however, has allowed credit card payments for a few years, although it doesn't promote that option, says Rhonda Newton, the firm's director of human resources and client services.

The firm does generate bills electronically, though, through a custom software system, Newton says.

Mike McLean
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Deputy Editor Mike McLean has worked his entire journalism career in the Inland Northwest. Mike, who also lives to reel in fish and crank up music, has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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