Text messaging—whether via SMS, iMessage or another format—has become ubiquitous in our personal and work worlds. Texting is fast, easy for mostly everyone and can be a positive for both the phone-phobic and those simply in a hurry.
Law firm clients already communicate with a variety of service providers by text, and they may expect the same level of accessibility from their highly paid attorneys. This blog looks at why lawyers face some unique risks when texting with their clients.
Lawyers are bound by strict confidentiality and attorney-client privilege rules. While the rules do not explicitly restrict text messaging with clients, firms should set some guardrails. Things to consider are sending documents and sensitive information or communicating about a case in great detail.
Consider, for example, the risk of inadvertent disclosure. If an attorney’s mobile device provides message previews on the home screen, rather than just alerts, confidential content could be exposed to anyone nearby. Similarly, an exchange an attorney might be having on an iPhone could pop up on the screen of their device in an unsecured location.
Potential problems proliferate if your firm has a bring-your-own-device policy. Data ownership and preservation and employee privacy are only a few of the issues implicated by client texting in such circumstances.
From a practical perspective, there is also the risk of becoming the victim of a client who is a serial texter. Stressed, irate or even simply lonely clients could flood you with messages on your phone.
Related Read: Communication Is Key to Timely Client Payment
Establish Clear Limits
It is very important to set client expectations from the very beginning before bad habits can develop. Talk with your client and outline how communications will transpire; then, outline it in the engagement letter.
With most clients, you probably do not want to exclude texting as a communication medium altogether. However, the best approach is to set boundaries. For example, you might agree to
limit texting to appointment and court date reminders, procedural updates and payment reminders. You can automate such texts and reduce the risk of initiating a lengthy back and forth.
If a client does text you about a matter that is inappropriate for texting, reply that you will be in touch when you can switch to a more secure method of communication. This will reassure the client, while you maintain compliance with ethical and security standards.
You can also be proactive and communicate with clients the types of things that they should not be texting you about and why. Warning them in advance about the risks of more extensive texting can help to prevent it. They may not understand that texting is not always secure, so you will need to educate them while keeping communications safe.
For more information, contact Joy Long at [email protected] or 312.670.7444. Visit ORBA.com to learn more about our Law Firm Group.