Communicating well with clients and other counsel rarely wins awards (although we think it should). Doing it poorly, however, can alienate clients and even threaten a lawyer’s livelihood. It’s not necessary to become a master of all forms of communication in an office. But it is imperative to have at least an intermediate understanding of current communication tools.
Law firms have a lot of choices when it comes to communication methods. They can pick up the phone and call another party, email them, text, or even send correspondence through the mail. They can also text message someone, schedule a video conference, or instant message internally using Slack or MS Teams. Hell, many lawyers still use fax machines.
Each of the mechanisms above has its purpose. A phone call is in real-time and has a personal touch, while an encrypted email is secure and traceable. A text message is easy for clients to respond to, while mail is usually considered safer for the delivery of sensitive information.
Every firm will likely need to use most—if not all–of these communication methods in their offices. Determining which to use depends on a number of factors, including security, ease of use, and necessary functionality. Although correspondence typically seems reactive, it is best to establish rules and processes for each form of communication.
What Form of Communication to Use
A law firm’s first consideration when it comes to technology should usually be security. Although most professional rules of conduct only require a “reasonable” standard for security, the practical effects of that are constantly developing. It’s better to be over-secure than under-secure and to reassess periodically.
There are two main aspects to a law firm’s security assessment of its communication tools. First, determine if the information is confidential or otherwise protected. Then determine if the communication method is encrypted or secure. If the firm wants to protect the information, the method of communication and the ultimate repository of that information must be secure, or—in the case of digital information—encrypted.
Although it feels like it’s the most important aspect, law firms should consider the function and usability of the communication second. If a firm is trying to get discovery photos off of their client’s phone, insecure text messaging is never an option. But, a firm shouldn’t make things difficult for other parties without good reason. Requiring a potential new client to send an intake form via fax would be ridiculous.
With a little forethought, firms can maintain the security of their communications and get all the functionality needed out of their preferred method. Sometimes it takes a little bit of discipline on the part of the firm and some education on the part of the clients or other third parties.
Building Communication Processes
A law firm’s communication methods should be documented like any other process in the office. There should be a written protocol for why internal communication will be sent via email rather than Slack or MS Teams. Document sharing with third parties should be done using a tried and tested method. And everyone in the office should know what can be shared via text message and what is off-limits.
More about Communication
Communication methods and styles are only one aspect of a law firm’s systems and processes. Healthy firms will build this into their overall best practices. To learn more about this—and other—systems, visit our Healthy Systems page.
Last updated March 8th, 2023