Today’s world is one of immediate gratification — and law firm clients are not immune. Although surveys indicate that lawyers still strongly prefer email to text messages, clients often demand immediate responsiveness. As a result, lawyers have found themselves doing what was previously unthinkable: sharing their cell phone numbers, and even texting with clients. While giving in to this urge may satisfy clients in the short term, lawyers should be mindful of the potential pitfalls of texting as they relate to compliance, profitability, and productivity.
For lawyers struggling to meet billable hour requirements, even filing emails with an Outlook add-in can feel like an onerous chore. Properly filing text-based conversations, which are logged chronologically and appear among communications with friend and family, is even more time-consuming and tedious. In order to properly file a text message, one needs to take a screenshot and email it to him or herself — a process that rarely ever takes place. For that reason, most text messages never get filed — which, is likely to result in impaired retrieval of documents, tasks, or client instructions and thereby negatively impact efficiency, project management and discovery needs, and in some of the worst cases, can potentially result in irreparable and costly mistakes.
As clients demand lower rates and greater transparency, texting puts law firms and lawyers at risk of millions of dollars of lost revenue as a result of incomplete billing and non-compliant supporting documentation. Because it is difficult, if not impossible, to accurately account for time spent interacting with text-based communications, lawyers are unlikely to do so — meaning that this revenue is effectively leaked. What’s more, even when timesheets accurately reflect time spent texting, the same clients that insisted on text messaging suddenly balk at the expense, assuming that text messages are quick and therefore free. For lawyers who put a great deal of thought and effort into even the briefest of responses to a client on any channel, this too can result in significant revenue leakage.
One of the great ironies of our time is that it has never been easier to work on-the-go, but it has never been harder to get work done. Lawyers are understandably buckling under the pressure to meet billable hour requirements, respond to multiple clients immediately on numerous platforms, and more quickly turn around higher quality work. Being present on multiple communications channels may make you more available, but more channels means more messages — which means more to file, keep track of, and bill, as well as more opportunities for missteps and misunderstandings.
When appropriately used, texting can be an incredibly convenient and time-saving tool. The inherently personal nature of texting can help lawyers build personal connections and trust with clients. Texting can be a great way to congratulate a client, quickly follow-up to confirm receipt of a document, or to let a client know that you’re stuck in traffic and running late to a meeting.
Where texting is less than ideal? The line can be drawn when it comes to discussing strategy or complex legal concepts or transmitting confidential information. And texts are not a replacement for in-person meetings, phone calls, or emails – all channels where misunderstandings are less likely to arise.
Although texting and other messaging services have become the preferred forms of communication in social interactions, email is a more appropriate digital communication channel for lawyers keen on maximizing productivity, efficiency, and value for the below reasons: