Is Texting the New Normal for Client/Lawyer Communications?

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.

Some of the key issues for lawyers when texting clients include:

Regularly filing texts into your Document Management System is all but impossible

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.

Incomplete documentation of texting results in lost revenue opportunities

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.

More communication channels will not make you more productive

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.

Is there ever a good reason to text clients?

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.

The advantages of email for client/lawyer communications

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:

  1. Emails are inherently more suitable than texts for conveying long-form or complex messages in a more structured manner, ensuring secure transmission of pertinent information and attachments within a law firm’s security perimeter, as well as communicating with multiple parties at once — throughout a thread, or as needed.
  2. There is software available that integrates email with your Document Management System, which streamlines the process of filing client communications in accordance with best practices for compliance. For example, ZERØ, a mobile email client and Outlook add-in, integrates seamlessly with iManage and NetDocuments to provide predictions of filing destinations with almost 100% accuracy and allow lawyers to file emails one at a time or in bulk.
  3. Email management software like ZERØ can capture and describe time spent interacting with email-based communications. Leveraging tools like these is an effective way to take back control in a modern world saturated with digital communications – to capture and convey value, recoup otherwise lost earnings, and efficiently and professionally manage, price, and execute complex projects.
  4. Using existing email management software like ZERØ on mobile and desktop, it is also possible to organize emails based on client/matter, filing status, or even importance. You never need to worry about not being able to track down an important client communication, and you can arrange your inbox to see only the information most relevant to you at that moment at the top.

Tips for managing digital relationships with clients

  1. Keep texting to a minimum. Use text messages as a means of relaying necessary information regarding scheduling and for acknowledging receipt of documents — not for transmitting lengthy responses or confidential information, in which case, a carefully crafted email would be more suitable.
  2. Carve out specific times for responding to text messages, so that writing times and meetings can remain focused and productive.
  3. Clarify that texting is like any other form of communication for billing purposes.
  4. Treat text-based communications as if they are face-to-face communications (don’t leave clients waiting for a reply, or abruptly exit mid-conversation) and remember that, like emails, texts are written records.
  5. If a client provides instructions over text or indicates acceptance of deal points, follow up with a phone call or email to confirm.
  6. If a texting conversation starts getting into more complex or substantive waters, suggest that you continue the conversation over the phone or in a face-to-face meeting. Often, a quick phone call is all that’s needed, and more often than not, takes less time overall than a heavy texting session.
  7. Streamline your email workflows by leveraging tools like ZERØ that allow you to file emails directly into your Document Management System and automatically, passively, and contemporaneously capture time spent interacting with client emails on iPhones and iPads.
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Amy Sapan

Originally from New York and based out of Tel Aviv since late 2010, Amy Sapan has over eight years of corporate legal experience, principally in the fields of high-tech and private investment fund formation. She has previously held positions at Amit, Pollak, Matalon & Co. and Yigal Arnon, two of Israel’s leading law firms, as well as Dickstein Shapiro LLP in New York City, now defunct. She received her J.D. magna cum laude from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, and her B.A. in International & Area Studies summa cum laude from Washington University in St. Louis. She is a member of the NY State Bar and the Israeli Bar Association. She is passionate about gardening, art, craft, dance, swimming, ecology and movement.