Four bar associations across the United States have now issued opinions stating they are not opposed to cryptocurrency or digital currency as a form of payment for an advance or services rendered.
The District of Columbia Bar Association (DCB) became the most recent, releasing an ethics opinion which states that lawyers in the nation’s capital could accept cryptocurrency as a form of payment as long as the fee is reasonable and objectively fair to clients. According to the DCB, any lawyer who accepts crypto as payment must also take “competent and reasonable security precautions to safeguard that property”.
Other bars accepting digital payments
The DCB currently has roughly 100,000 members, making it one of the larger bar associations in the U.S. to state it is “not unethical for a lawyer to accept cryptocurrency.”
The New York City bar association issued a statement in July 2019 calling crypto payments “business transactions”, while the DCB refers to them as “payment in property” rather than in fiat.
Bar associations in Nebraska and North Carolina were the earliest organizations to issue statements on crypto for lawyers in 2018. The Nebraska Bar singled out Bitcoin (BTC) in particular and called attention to illegal uses of digital currency, naming Silk Road, the online contraband market infamous for its associations with crypto, as one example.
However, the North Carolina Bar may have written the most skeptical opinion questioning the ethics of crypto as payment. Though ultimately agreeing cryptocurrency is a form of property, it recommended against investing in virtual currency:
“The bulk of people we know regard Bitcoin as “shady money,” and they may well regard lawyers accepting Bitcoin as “shady lawyers.” Will Bitcoin be legitimized one day in the eyes of average Joes and Janes? Maybe—but not soon.”
Though the DCB refers to crypto as a “volatile alternative currency” that “raises ethical challenge for lawyers,” it also admits digital currency may be in everyone’s future:
“Lawyers cannot hold back the tides of change even if they would like to, and cryptocurrency is increasingly accepted as a payment method by vendors and service providers, including lawyers [...] the rules are flexible enough to provide for the protection of clients’ interests and property without rejecting advances in technologies.”