Traditionally, law firm communications have been limited to meetings, letters, phone calls and emails. But like most people, you probably prefer a quick text to a more disruptive call. Research says 32% of people prefer a text to a call, and you may have already made a habit of texting with clients for quicker communication.
Texting offers lawyers a way to save time during the day, get quick answers from busy clients and impress on clients the fact that you are friendly, accessible and committed to a great representation.
Texting is a great medium for scheduling, reminders and other quick communications. However, improper text communications pose a substantial risk exposure for lawyers and law firms. So if you text your clients, follow these best practice tips for texting clients.
1. Set Realistic Client Texting Expectations Upfront
Text has an immediacy that other communication mediums lack. The average wait for a reply to a text is only 90 seconds. Like all texters, clients may come to expect an immediate response from you, but this can cause problems for lawyers.
- A quick answer may not always be adequate or appropriate for a legal matter.
- A client’s query may require research and investigation to arrive at an appropriate response.
- A compound question may be impossible to address adequately due to the limitations of text.
It’s best to avoid giving an answer you may second-guess later. If faced with these sorts of questions from a client, consider replying with one of the following tactics:
- “That’s a complex issue. After I have time to review, I will call you to discuss.”
- “Received. I will call you to discuss.”
While these responses help let the client know you got their message and will respond appropriately, you can also minimize your risk by setting texting expectations at the beginning of the engagement. Explain that text is appropriate for scheduling, confirming court times and other non-critical and non-substantive issues. Then, incorporate these guidelines into your engagement letters. Manage the expectations of clients texting you so you can give yourself more time for considered responses.
2. Make Sure Text Communications Are Preserved
Text messages you exchange with your client are subject to the same preservation requirements as other forms of legal electronic communications. If a client requests a copy of their file or a legal malpractice claim is made, text messages must be produced.
Without proper memorialization of texts, lawyers can run into trouble. Phone carriers do have records of your communications, but typically have a short retention period for text message data, making them an unreliable archiver for your legal exchanges. Screen captures of text exchanges are a possible, but the manual process is cumbersome and error prone.
Automated preservation is best, using a specific phone app or case management software platform to transfer texts to your firm’s computer for safekeeping. Automated memorialization of your exchanges minimizes your risk of a spoliation claim of destroyed evidence from future disgruntled clients.
3. Put Security in Place to Protect Confidentiality
Text messaging technologies have security vulnerabilities that must be addressed before you start texting with clients. A lawyer’s duty to ensure confidentiality of client information and protect attorney-client privilege extends to your communications via text.
The following points can help minimize your security risks:
- Use a text platform with sufficient encryption to protect client confidentiality.
- Ensure communications won’t be exposed to an unauthorized third party either by the lawyer or by the client.
- Set phone notifications so that messages don’t appear on the phone lock screen and aren’t visible without entering a password.
4. Maintain Professionalism While Texting Clients
Text messaging tends to be an informal medium for communication. However, lawyers must be cautious when sending texts to their clients. There are a few common texting practices it’s best to avoid:
There is always a risk of your informal texting being perceived as unprofessional or even leading to misinterpretation by the recipient. A claim could be made, and a lawyer’s competence and professionalism could be called into question, with an embarrassing text presented as an exhibit before a jury. Instead, you are better off ensuring a professional tone in all your business communications with clients.
Texting is likely to become even more widespread in the legal profession with time. Few alternatives match its ease of use and immediacy. But it’s important to text your clients with care. Set realistic expectations upfront with clients about the use of text communication. Make sure practices are in place to preserve any text exchanges and safeguard attorney-client communications, while remaining professional at all times.