Communication with clients and prospective clients has always been very important. Due to the current climate, it is even now more important to ensure that clients and potential new clients are receiving the communications that they want, in the format that they want, and when they want them. Proper communication from everyone in a firm will have a positive impact on clients and will increase the firm’s overall success. These communications include, but are not limited to, texts, emails, voicemails, websites and social media posts.
Prior to the pandemic, more than half of polled clients preferred in-person communications. However, the pandemic has changed this preference for many individuals. Today, with many different electronic mediums and social media venues, it is important that lawyers pivot to their clients’ needs and expectations as if it were an in-person encounter.
Connecting with Website Visitors
Websites are today’s virtual reception areas. Make sure that when anyone accesses the firm’s website, that there is a “call to action,” meaning the visitor can easily engage with your firm either by a contact form, live chat or preferred phone number. The visitor should also easily determine the services provided without a lot of clicks and navigation. Monitoring website activity is very helpful to determine its effectiveness.
When communicating electronically, it is important to remember the European Union’s GDPR (General Data Protections Regulation) and the CCPA (California’s Consumer Privacy Act) regulations. Comply, even if not doing business in either of these geographic areas. It is just a matter of time before similar privacy restrictions will be instituted throughout the rest of the world. Many ethics complaints (professional liability claims) are initiated because clients do not believe that they received the appropriate amount of communication and in a timely manner.
It’s also important that current or prospective clients be discouraged from sharing any confidential information through your firm’s website forms or chat features (which may be run by a third-party answering service). Be sure to include prominent messaging with appropriate warnings wherever information may be shared by a website visitor.
Messaging on Different Platforms
When it comes to communications on social media, these can generally be broken into two categories: public posts shared with the firm’s following (and visible to all users of the platform) and private messages. With public posts, it often makes sense to publish information outside of normal business hours since people are checking these platforms throughout the day and, in many cases, more frequently when they’re not working. This is in stark contrast to emails, voicemail or text messages that should be sent during normal business hours and not at 7 p.m. on a Sunday evening.
When communicating with clients or prospective clients about matters or other legal-related topics over any platform, never do so on any social media platform or via text. Always make sure those communications are secure and encrypted. When communicating with clients via voicemail or email, those communications should be brief. They can be recorded and shared, so again don’t communicate any confidential information.
Chatting via Video Conferencing
When choosing a video conferencing application, check with the client to ensure that it is their preferred medium and that you are the one to send the meeting invitation. For instance, if Zoom is preferred, be the one to set up the meeting and invite the client with a 15-30-minute reminder. When using a new software application, practice with a colleague prior to using it with a client. Microsoft Teams is different from Zoom. Know the difference. Make sure speakers and visuals are working appropriately.
It is important to set expectations. What does the client or prospective client expect to get out of the interaction? When arranging a communication, be sure to highlight what will be learned or achieved by participating. If a communication is dealing with a current client and matter, make very sure there is an agenda and that it is communicated prior to the meeting. If the agenda is available, it can be sent, with any handouts, when the meeting is scheduled. It can also be attached to the calendar invitation.
Even though communications are not in person, it is important to remember “people skills.” Remember that others in the communication want to be heard and informed. These people skills have to be shared with everyone in the firm. Customer service is key. Most new business is a result of current clients’ recommendations and referrals.
Beyond video conferencing, many firms are investing in podcasts and videos to provide value to clients and potential new clients alike. As a general rule of thumb, these offerings should be short enough not to lose the attention of the viewer—the average attention span is now shorter than in the past. When creating new podcasts and video presentations, spend the money to hire a professional to ensure that the podcast has adequate lighting, appropriate voice volume and backgrounds. Be careful to keep the message free from legal jargon and remember that such communications do not go away; they are recorded and should be considered permanent.
Today, there are many great options for providing strong client communication. There are many software applications to help attorneys easily communicate in a consistent manner. Clients can access portals where they can review documents as needed. These portals are very secure. However, the legal industry is the profession most frequently compromised by the “bad guys.” Therefore, it’s important to make sure all communications are secure and encrypted. The weakest link in any organization is the human factor.
Good client communication is key to every lawyer’s success. Better communication leads to stronger client experiences, increased positive reviews and more referrals. So make sure your communications are strong and secure in order to provide a seamless experience for your clients and fellow associates.
Written by CARET Legal partner, Gail Ruopp. Gail Ruopp has acquired more than 25 years of professional experience in senior law firm management, initiating best practices in administrative operations, including: financials, accounting, lateral recruiting, personnel, day-to-day operations, systems management, and firm marketing.