DC Bar Association approves crypto payments for lawyers

DC is now the fourth bar association in the US to accept crypto payments for lawyers

In a boost to cryptocurrency’s aspirations for mass adoption, the Washington DC Bar Association issued a statement endorsing cryptocurrency and other digital currencies as a form of payment for services. The District of Columbia Bar Association (DCB) joins the list of four bars in the US that have given consent for lawyers to legally receive payments in the form of digital currencies such as Bitcoin.

In an ethics opinion released on its website, the DCB stated that lawyers can ethically choose to accept cryptocurrency as payment; given that the settlement is fair and reasonable for both parties involved. The bar association further emphasised that considerable attention must be paid to ensure that the fee settlement is reasonable and “objectively fair to the client” in case the cryptocurrency is being accepted for services in advance.

The ethics opinion also held that lawyers who choose cryptocurrency payments will be responsible for informing their clients in writing of the implications of such forms of payment. The DCB asked lawyers to take competent security precautions to safeguard the payment against fraud and other forms of cybercrime. It further said that the ethics body has observed no basis in the Rules of Professional Conduct for “treating cryptocurrency as a uniquely unethical form of payment.”

The DCB, with over 100,000 members, is one of the largest bar associations in the US to have legally and ethically permitted lawyers to accept cryptocurrency in exchange for their service. Interestingly, while DCB classified crypto payments as a “payment in property” rather than in fiat currency, the New York Bar Association classified digital asset payment under “business transactions.” The New York Bar gave a green signal to cryptocurrency in July 2017.

The Nebraska and North Carolina bar associations were the earliest in the legal sphere to address the issue of crypto assets back in 2018.  The Nebraska bar particularly called out Bitcoin for its use in illegal activities. North Carolina, though ultimately agreeing that crypto payments were not unethical, advised strictly against investing in virtual currency.

DCB, through its ethical opinion, accepted that crypto is a “volatile alternative currency” that “raises ethical challenge for lawyers,” but also reminded that virtual currency might be the 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,” DCB explained. “The rules are flexible enough to provide for the protection of clients’ interests and property without rejecting advances in technologies,” it concluded.

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