As digital technologies continue to evolve, methods of communication that were once considered casual and non-professional have become more mainstream—and part of everyday life.
While many lawyers considered texting with clients to seem too informal in the past, it’s now an increasingly accepted form of communication at law firms. So, why should you text? And what are the risks and considerations, especially when it comes to ethics and client confidentiality requirements?
Effective client communication
One of the strongest arguments in favor of texting is that it’s a very effective way to communicate.
In the era of email advertising campaigns, many people’s email inboxes are flooded to the point where it’s easy to miss messages—or skip over something you intend to return to later.
But text messages operate differently. People expect texts to be short—and they’re far more likely to be personally relevant than an email—so most people read and respond to texts more promptly.
Today, texting can provide a dynamic and effective way to communicate with clients.
Because texting is perceived as more personal and less of an infringement on someone’s time, it can be a particularly effective platform for connecting with potential clients.
Not unlike finding a good doctor who actually explains things, clients often want to work with a lawyer who will explain what they don’t understand and answer questions. They want someone they can communicate well with—and texting can make you seem more accessible to potential leads.
Technical considerations when texting
While texting comes with advantages, it’s important to fully consider how you will use text messages with clients at your firm.
For instance, automated texting can be a good way to remind clients of upcoming meetings or other one-way information blips. But it’s not as strong in situations where the client may want to reply with a question.
Two-way texting—which is what most people think of when they think about texting—allows for a conversation but comes with more potential security risks. For example, if you’re two-way texting with clients, you’ll want to disable the notification setting on your phone that shows the first line of the text.
Ethics considerations when texting legal clients
Whichever kind of texting you choose to use, you need to take security issues seriously. It’s part of meeting ethical requirements.
ABA Model Rule 1.1 specifically addresses technological competence. Are your messages encrypted or otherwise digitally secure? Is the phone you’re using protected with multi-factor authentication?
You should also map out if you will use a designated work phone—or if you’ll use a personal device. Don’t violate attorney-client privilege by failing to disable notifications that show the first line of text on your phone.
Client expectations when communicating via text
As with any other form of communication, your clients must know what to expect. Tell them that you use texting—and under what circumstances. Don’t let it come as a surprise. You never know when a client may live with someone who looks at their phone.
Likewise, establish what you will and won’t discuss over text. Meeting times are far more straightforward than the finer points of a case or contract. And for your own sanity, it may be worth protecting personal time and setting limits to when you will respond.
Ensure clients understand that you will charge for your time—the same as you would with more traditional forms of communication. And, of course, as a lawyer, you know that all of this should be in writing. Make it part of your representation agreement, and be sure to review the details with clients.
Straightforward client communication
Ultimately, texting is all about providing a better service to your clients through improved communication options.
But like any change to the status quo, it does take a little work on your part. Take ethical considerations into account when coming up with a firm policy that fits your practice area and client base. Decide how and when you will text clients, and make sure they know what to expect.
And then get ready for the next round of communication advances.