I think we can all agree that sending correspondence by regular post is one of the least efficient means of getting a message to someone, yet it still remains a common way of doing things in law today.
This surprises me. With the pressure modern law firms are facing when it comes to their bottom line, and higher service level expectations from their clients, it’s hard to believe that more efficient communication alternatives are not commonplace.
Just the act of printing a document, filling out the envelope, weighing and adding postage is costly and eats up valuable time. Then consider the time it takes for a letter to reach its recipient; every exchange in correspondence adds one to three days to the process. And when you receive your reply, it’s usually delivered to a location rather than directly to the intended recipient. Someone needs to open and sort all incoming post, then manually scan documents of importance for electronic storage.
So, every notice that goes to or from lawyers is sent by someone printing things out and addressing envelopes and sending things to post rooms, when an afternoon of printing, folding, and posting could be replaced with a handful of mouse clicks.
And there are other disputes that can arise if a letter goes missing or the recipient claims it was not received. An email with attachments and read receipts is a far more reliable audit trail if you want to prove that something was sent on a certain date. Some have argued that not everyone has an email address, whereas a physical address is universally common, but Jeff Bennion, a solo practitioner at the Law Office of Jeff Bennion, disagrees. He states in an article for Above the Law that ‘If that is one of the reasons for the court system preferring regular mail to email, it’s probably got the statistics exactly opposite. There are probably more practicing attorneys with email addresses than physical office locations.’
A generational shift
We are now in a time where new generations are changing the way they expect to be communicated with.
Bennion states ‘I look forward to telling my kids about how in my time, we had to send official legal correspondence by licking lightly glued things and sticking them together after weighing them on a scale and how we kept little knives at our desks designed to cut open the outer part of the letter without cutting up the document inside. In the meantime, it’s time the legal profession got over its fear of electronic communication.’
And this generational shift applies to the words we use too…
Chris Trudeau, a professor at Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Western Michigan University, completed an international study about legal communication, targeting how people use legal information in work based settings.
When talking to Scoop he states that he found ‘many people struggle with how to interpret legal information when they need to in their jobs. For example, if someone is working in a government health department, they may frequently have to interpret not only existing health regulations, but they may have to interpret internal policy requirements. And, of course, small-business owners may have these same struggles as they struggle to navigate the licensing or other legal requirements needed to register or operate their businesses.’
His results support the idea that clearer communication creates a win-win situation for all involved when both sides of the conversation fully understand the matter in hand. This seems pretty obvious, but this study has provided data showing that more often than not clients are left feeling confused when presented with information by a legal professional.
Trudeau believes ‘main reason is inertia. By that I mean that lawyers have learned to write by modelling their bosses, or professors, or the great lawyers of the past.’ Lawyers must remember that their clients are not well versed in this type of language and communicating in a client focused manner leads to a better client experience, in turn building client loyalty.
It’s time the legal profession loses its fear of electronic communication and explores the benefits it can bring. Think about how your clients would like to be communicated with – email, text, live chat, video? These methods enable you to deliver the fast and digestible information that the client of today expects.
And think about what the future will bring- it’s important to keep in tune with developments to give yourself a competitive advantage.
To see some data that backs this up, why not download our Legal Services Communication report?