Many attorneys react to the thought of texting with clients with a solid “no way!” However, attorneys are feeling the pressure to text with clients since texting is a normal communication tool for most everyone these days. Clients in certain industries, such as construction, prefer texting because they are literally in an environment that makes talking on the phone impossible and they use texting in the normal course of business. Modest means and indigent clients may have a voice plan via a low cost carrier, but do not have (unlimited) data, making email a less viable communication form. Courts and public defenders are experimenting with reducing national “failure to appear” rates to avoid bench warrants by reminding defendants via text message about upcoming court dates. Incoming ABA President Judy Perry Martinez and past ABA President Robert Grey Jr. recently introduced a presentation at the Legal Services Corporation Forum on Access to Justice in 2018 on “Using Text Messaging to Improve the Delivery of Legal Services.”
But clients outside of these practice areas and situations also want to use text messaging with their lawyers because that is how they already communicate in many other areas of their lives. Many people appreciate the ease of use from getting text message reminders about upcoming appointments, quick yes/no responses regarding availability, and other confirmations. Lawyers can leverage text messages for these same purposes, such as payment reminders, automated messages with office hours, directions, confirming meetings and more.
But, What About … ?
Jim Calloway and Ivan Hemmans wrote a a thoughtful – and useful – article originally for ABA TECHSHOW 2018 outlining considerations for texting with clients including confidentiality, security, records retention, and establishing boundaries and expectations. They also outline options for text messaging with clients, many using tools you already have like email to text.
Lawyers are slowly adopting text messaging into their communication portfolios. In the 2018 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report 15% of respondents overall indicated regularly texted with clients, while 29% occasionally texted with clients. Interestingly responding attorneys were less likely to incorporate web or video conferencing as a communication method.
According to the ZipWhip State of Texting report people are now sending more texts than email per day, by roughly 25%. However, 74% of consumers report having zero unread texts at any given time, while only 17% of consumers can boast the same for email. This may be one of the reasons driving some firms to add text messaging as a marketing tool. Whether providing a “click to text” button on the firm’s website or actively engaging in lead generation with text messaging, lawyers are finding ways to leverage the immediacy and open rates of SMS to their client development strategy. The tactic of contacting prospective clients via text message through a marketing service was the subject of a North Carolina formal ethics opinion, issued in April 2017, which concluded that a lawyer may advertise through a text message service that allows the user to initiate live telephone communication.
Text Message Management
There are many options a lawyer who wants to incorporate texting into client communication and marketing without exposing her personal cell phone number. One free and simple way is to incorporate a Google Voice account. Google Voice is a free service that lets you get a phone number for calls, text messages, and voicemail. You can use the app on your phone or on your computer. Texts sent and received through your Google Voice number appear in the app, and are also sent to you via your Gmail if you choose. The email option makes it easy to incorporate the messages into the client record, as you are likely to already have a mechanism for saving and storing client emails.
Other options, if you need more robust capabilities and want to use texting in a team environment, are services like ZipWhip or HeyMarket. Both products let you use an existing business line (VoiP or landline) to manage client communications including administrative tools, reporting, and message archiving in a multi-user environment. Other features, depending on the platform, include auto-reply during non-business hours, scheduled texts, search, and sending MMS (multi media texts that include pictures). Both products integrate with Clio practice management and other tools like Zapier and HelloSign to improve your workflow and reduce redundancies.
If you are using a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone system like RingCentral you may find that text messaging integration is available. RingCentral’s Business SMS and MMS provides access to texting through its apps and desktop, and allows push and email notifications of incoming messages. Text messaging services come with all of the RingCentral plans. Similarly Vonage Business (f/k/a Vocalocity) offers Business Text Messaging.
Some virtual receptionist services also offer text messaging through their app. Ruby Receptionists has a mobile app that lets customers instruct Ruby on how to handle incoming calls, and also provides the ability to take calls and texts on your cell phone without exposing your personal phone number. Your business phone number will show in caller ID when calls are made through the Ruby app and you can send and receive SMS messages as well. The app is free and comes with the Ruby Receptionist subscription. Message archiving is forthcoming.
There are many more tools today to make texting with clients manageable. As ABA President Elect Judy Perry Martinez said to the Legal Services Corporation Forum on Access to Justice audience, it is about accessibility. It may also give you a competitive advantage. You just may want to avoid using emoji.
Catherine Sanders Reach is the Director of the North Carolina Center for Practice Management. NCBA members, click here to learn more about how the Center for Practice Management can help you.