Thursday, April 1, 2010

Got Any Magic Beans? Bartering Legal Work For Goods and Services

A gentleman came into my office today seeking help with his criminal matter. After quoting my fee, he asked me if I would be willing to barter my stellar legal services for some goods. Intrigued, I asked him what he was offering. "I have a slightly used weed whacker." As tempting as the offer was, I decided to pass. "Got any magic beans, buddy?"

As the nation's economy limps along, I would imagine that there would be an increase in requests for bartering arrangements.  Some attorneys have answered the call.  For example, do you happen to own a pair of JFK's boxer shorts? On, the California law firm of Michael T. Chulak & Associates offers legal services in exchange for certain goods and services that can include advertising, land, antiques, political memorabilia, high quality jewelry, or restaurant gift certificates. Are you a great dancer? Scanning Craigslist, I found a San Francisco attorney who was willing to trade estate planning services in exchange for a multitude of "services in life's luxuries" including tango lessons, vacations, professional photography services, dental care, a motorcycle, even party catering. Know how to fix an Chrysler LeBaron? In Massachusetts, a solo practitioner offers his legal services in exchange for fixing his car. One central Arkansas attorney offers his services in exchange for items that include " land, a camper, 4-wheelers, guns, boats, generators, and electronics."

Of course, bartering has lead to trouble for some attorneys. The ABA Journal reports that 58 year old Florida lawyer James Harvey Tipler was disbarred for misconduct that included having an 18 year old client pay for her $2300 legal bill with sex acts. He knocked $200 off the bill for "relations" and an additional $400 when another woman had "relations" with him. My first thought was how appalling. My second was, I wonder why the second woman got the client a bigger discount? Personally, I am shocked and appalled that a member of the bar would exchange legal work for sex. With a client base that includes the elderly and some burly construction workers, our firm tends to frown on this practice.

Truth be told, I sometimes barter my legal services in exchange for small green portraits of our nation's founding fathers.  I have even worked in exchange for the culinary talents of Italian grandmothers.  This month, I did some legal work for an elderly lady that walked into our New Britain office. Knowing her dire financial situation, I decided to do the work pro bono. When she asked about payment, I joked "a tray of your famous meatballs " The following day, the lady brought the payment. Now I have to figure out how to report meatballs on my taxes.

My own law practice includes many clients that are involved in the construction industry. When we opened our new office, I toyed with the idea of bartering my services in exchange for some badly needed brick work on our hundred year old digs. Maybe bartering isn't such a bad idea?  Then again, do I want to be known as the attorney who is willing to do legal work in exchange for a tempermental goat,  two chickens and a couple of nosebleed seats to Sesame Street on Ice?

Of course, if you are considering bartering your services, make sure to check with your local bar association regarding ethics rules. Set out specific ground rules with your client.  For example, what happens if they do not complete promised services?   Other things to take into account include reporting your bartered goods on your taxes.  We welcome your own stories on the subject.


Tedd said...

Bartering can open many doors in my opinion. Do you have any services you can provide, or have bought shoes you never used, or even have a room for rent? You could barter for it. Of course you have to be careful when choosing trading partners. I found a reliable Website, it's: I lately bartered my iPOD docking station for a few electronic accessories, like a Flash RAM Card and it worked out great. In my opinion bartering is a good tool to save money (which is probably the most important issue nowadays)!

Anonymous said...

I enjoy the way you get a serious point across with a touch of humor. Your posts make me smile.

Maurya Lane said...

The NC Bar is trying to ban lawyers from participating in established retail barter exchanges. I am the owner of the Barter Business Exchange, Inc. in Cary, NC and I am looking for legal advice.

I report all barter sales to the IRS on a 1099B as taxable income as required by law under the Tefra Act of 1982.

I earn my living by charging a 10% cash transaction fee when I match a buyer with a seller in a barter transaction. The bar is claiming that this 10% cash transaction fee is fee sharing. They allow lawyers to accept credit cards for payment but they do not allow lawyers to accept barter dollars for payment --- even though the Federal Government states that it legal.

I can't believe that that an association can over rule the Federal Government by denying hundreds of participating BBE barter members the ability to pay for legal services with barter dollars. Any help out there? Please email me at any links that will help my case.

Corinne said...

Yes, and the GOP thinks we should pay our doctor bills with chickens.

Dana Blick said...

Small no-name mom and pop restaurants do it all the time!! I have had the pleasure of witnessing an exchange of food for a cappuccino machine. Ridiculous.

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