Here’s a question I’m surprised hasn’t been posed more often in the inquiries that I receive: can a lawyer accept Bitcoin as payment for legal fees?
Last September, the Nebraska’s Lawyers Advisory Committee issued Ethics Advisory Opinion 17-03. As far as I know, it’s the only formal opinion on the topic to date. The opinion addresses three questions related to cryptocurrency, legal fees, and the disciplinary rules:
- May an attorney receive digital currencies such as bitcoin as payment for legal
- May an attorney receive digital currencies from third parties as payment for the
benefit of a client’s account?
- May an attorney hold digital currencies in trust or escrow for clients?
To cut to the chase, the answer to each question is “yes, but . . .” For instance, a few takeaways:
- Yes, but as with any form of payment, the fee must be reasonable. Example: as I write this blog, 1 bitcoin is worth $9,612.53.
- Yes, but as with any situation in which the lawyer is paid by someone other than the client, the lawyer must comply with Rule 1.8(f).
- Yes, but remember: bitcoins are property, not actual currency. Rule 1.15 requires lawyers to safeguard client property. To comply with the duty to safeguard cryptocurrency, a lawyer would need a secure digital wallet. Of course, if the lawyer accepts cryptocurrency and converts it to U.S. dollars, the funds, if not yet earned, must go into trust.
Two other resources:
- What Lawyers Need to Know About Blockchain, a post at Slaw; and,
- Blockchain and Cryptocurrency: What Lawyers Need to Know, a podcast on the Legal Talk Network.
Finally, don’t forget about the VBA’s inaugural Tech Show on May 16.