Text messaging is an essential part of how we communicate. This is true even for lawyers. Text messaging provides a convenient and cost-effective way to communicate important information to clients. Here are some tips to consider when communicating with clients through text message.
Set Realistic Expectations
Unclear expectations lead to miscommunications and upset clients. Laying out the ground rules for text communications and confirming the client’s understanding of those guidelines will decrease the chances of an upset client later on.
If you intend to use text messaging to communicate with your clients, make sure that they are (1) able to and (2) willing to receive updates and important reminders via text. Inquire into whether the clients expect an immediate response upon texting and communicate with the clients about whether that is a realistic expectation. Inform the client whether you are texting using your personal cell phone or a work issued cell phone. Some firms even incorporate into their engagement agreement the parameters of texting between the clients and lawyers. If using a personal phone, consider advising the clients that you do not respond after working hours and on the weekends. Otherwise, you risk blurring the boundaries of the work-life balance.
Utilize Texting To Save Time
Text messaging is a great way to communicate with a client when the lawyer is in a setting that makes taking a phone call difficult. Text messaging is also a quick way to communicate important information to a client who tends to engage in lengthy conversations over the phone. Shooting a quick text reminder to a client can be an important time management tool for the busy lawyer.
Lawyers may find that texting clients about the following topics is a great way to communicate important information in a cost effective and efficient manner:
- Requesting a time for a phone conference
- Setting meeting times
- Reminding clients about scheduled meetings
- Notifying and reminding clients about court dates
- Updating clients about simple case status updates
- Payment reminders
- Sharing links to documents
There are some conversations that are not well suited to have via texting. Lawyers should refrain from using text messaging for essential discussions like obtaining settlement authority. Instead, the lawyer should engage with the client in person or over the phone and then follow up that conversation with an email memorializing the conversation.
Always Be Professional
Texting a client is not the same as texting a friend. While you may use abbreviations, slang, or emojis in a text to a friend, that may not be an appropriate manner to communicate with a client. You should maintain the level of professionalism when using text messages that you use in emails and letters. You should also be clear, concise, and brief in your text messages. Think twice about sending text messages that are longer than 2-3 lines. Refrain from sending text messages with slurs or curse words.
Lawyers have a responsibility to maintain and preserve their client files. This includes preserving client communications. Text messages, like emails and letters, must be preserved. These communications may also be essential to defending an allegation of malpractice or a discipline complaint. While taking a screenshot of the text communication is possible, that method of preserving client communications is cumbersome and time consuming. Consider subscribing to case management software with a feature to preserve text message communications.
Imagine that you take a break during a deposition and leave your phone on the table. Imagine further that you have a setting on your phone that displays the content of incoming text messages from clients as received. Or imagine that you have no password on your phone and an unscrupulous opposing counsel reads the screen or logs into your phone. Not only do you have issues of waiver of attorney-client privilege and breach of confidentiality to consider, opposing counsel may have gained access to your case strategy. Lawyers may—and in some cases, must—use technology in their practices. Lawyers have a duty to remain technologically competent and use technology in an appropriate way, including ensuring that text message communications remain confidential and protected by the lawyer-client privilege. Password protect your cell phone to ensure that others are unable to–purposely or inadvertently– review your text communications.
Are you recording your time when you are texting with clients? Are you billing a minimal time entry (.1) for each text message? Are you texting on the weekends and neglecting to bill the time all together? Lawyers should account for the time spent communicating with clients via text. Think about your billing practices and communicate those practices to your clients in advance. Be mindful, however, how you bill the time. A minimal time entry for each text may create an unreasonable bill quickly. A better billing practice would be to aggregate the time spent texting and bill the client accordingly. Capturing this time communicating is important both to capture your time spent on a case and to document the existence of the communications in the client file.