Email

Is Email Broken?

Ways to communicate now with clients and collegues have grown tremendously since the days of just using the telephone, faxing a letter and even Emailing. If Email no longer gets the job done, what are our alternatives?

Our Panelists

Dennis Kennedy (DK), Steve Embry (SE), William Goren (WG), Brooke Moore (BM), and Robert Young (RY).

Is email “broken?” Why or why not?

DK: Email itself is not broken. It works quite well for certain purposes—ideally for moderately lengthy asynchronous messaging. Where email feels broken is in all the other areas that people use email outside of those core purposes. Examples range from synchronous real-time messaging to project management to exchange of large files to managing drafts and versions of agreements during negotiations to a grab bag storage place.

SE: I don’t know if “broken” is the right word. It’s certainly hard to control it as more and more emails proliferate. It is hard to keep them all straight by subject and person, leading to a better chance of errors such as not replying when you should and copying replies to unintended persons.

WG: Email isn’t broken, but it is certainly overused. Many things are either not appropriate or are too complicated to respond to by email or text, and so you can’t be afraid to pick up the phone if need be.

BM: Email is an effective tool for communication, however, I believe that traditional email communication is becoming more obsolete. There are more effective, efficient, and secure ways to communicate electronically with clients and internally, such as client portals, law practice management software, and collaboration apps/tools.

RY: Absolutely not. I have a personal injury practice and 95% of my corresponding with adjusters and opposing counsel is done via email. I have not used my dictation equipment in months. It is much more efficient and cost-effective than sending letters.

Do you text with clients?

DK: As an in-house counsel, instant messaging is now a routine aspect of communication. It’s difficult to imagine working without instant messaging.

SE: I do not unless it’s more or less administrative. Security is an issue when communicating client confidences.

WG: Very rarely. Just as a way to alert them to something.

BM: I do not text with clients. Occasionally, however, a client will attempt to text with me on my Google Voice number, which I receive via email transcript. I typically just redirect them to our client portal.

RY: I exchange text messages with my clients on a daily basis. My biggest concern is memorializing those texts into our system.

Do you use Slack or its alternatives (Fleep, Jostle, Hive, etc.) with clients?

DK: I use Slack for a number of personal projects. I enjoy its versatility, the ability to set up channels, and its search features. I’m bullish on Slack. My only significant issue is that it is now one more place that I have to check for messages and information.

SE: Yes I use Slack. I think this actually works pretty well when the subject is discrete and the team well-identified. It’s a good way to collaborate and its informal nature lends itself to sharing ideas and brainstorming.

WG: No.

BM: I don’t use Slack or an alternative with my clients. I keep it all in my client portal so it’s all in one place. However, I do utilize Slack for internal firm communications.

RY: No.

Do you use instant messaging or a messaging app (Signal, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger) with clients?

DK: The issues are different in the in-house world. Instant messaging is a vital part of daily business communications.

SE: Not very often. Sometimes I use Facebook messenger or the LinkedIn message service in trying to reach someone for which I don’t have an email. The main problem with these services is that people often don’t check them as often as email.

WG: No.

BM: I do use Facebook messenger to communicate with potential clients. However, when they are converted to clients they are required to communicate via our client portal. My concerns with communicating with clients via a messaging app are that the conversations are not encrypted or secure. Additionally, it’s more efficient to have all communications in one place, rather than messages in messaging apps and emails and wherever else.

RY: I do a great deal of pseudo-advertising for my personal injury practice via Facebook. About once a month I get a case through Facebook when the client sends me a message via Facebook Messenger.

Are you using communication tools for internal (firm) other than email? What?

DK: Yes, Skype for Business.

SE: We have had some success using Office 365 Groups since we are a Windows-based platform. People seem to like it, but again, when group members go off the tracks and revert back to email it can be a problem.

WG: No. I do have the ability to encrypt attachments. I can also encrypt emails. Clients appreciate certain attachments being encrypted, but have uniformly disliked email encryption.

BM: In addition to email I use Slack, Clio Connect, and Appear.

RY: We utilize Needles case management software. Most of our communication among our attorneys and team members is done through Needles and automatically saved in the client’s Needles file.

If your firm has tried using non-email communication tools, what has the usage been like? Do people like it or just default back to email?

DK: The big issue with email alternatives is how easy it is for just one person to revert to email and pull the whole conversation back into the email world. There can also be the “where did I see that?” issue and the need to look in email and other communication tools to find information that you know that you have seen.

SE: Do people like it or just default back to email? See above. Other than a few specialized groups, like our Blockchain and Digital Currency Group, there is not widespread usage. I’m not sure why.

BM: Communications through Clio and Appear are used frequently. I have had some difficulty getting people to utilize Slack internally. Email is still the primary communication tool for most non-client related internal communications.

RY: Needles purchased a company called CasePulse, which now offers a client portal. When the case is signed up, the client is given the option of communicating via email or the portal. In less than a month since we launched it, 41 clients have successfully joined the portal and the feedback has been very positive. The big advantage of the portal is that all portal messages are automatically saved in Needles client file and the clients appreciate having instant access to their case.

What is your favorite alternative to email for communication and why?

DK: For me, it’s a matter of finding the right tool for the job and the communication channel that works best for your audience or team. As a practical matter, lawyers need to get a lot better at becoming fluent in today’s communication channels, especially the channels that their clients actual want to use. Before you send an email, take a moment and ask yourself, “Is email the right way to communicate this information?

SE: I really like Slack since its really simple to use. Microsoft Groups is good since it integrates with Outlook.

BM: I prefer Slack for internal communications. Everything is in one place so I do not have to search through a ton of emails, and it’s great to send out a quick group message or share documents or information for collaboration.

RY: Text message and the client portal, because that is what consumer clients are demanding. One of the biggest concerns consumers have when hiring an attorney is losing control of their matter. Other businesses like banks and credit card companies figured out long ago that they best way to make a client feel at ease is to give them as much control of their matter as possible. A client portal gives them this type of control. They receive automatic updates when important events take place in their case. They can upload pictures and other documents from their phone or other mobile device. It is a must if you have a consumer based practice.

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Law Technology Today is the official legal technology blog from the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC). Law Technology Today provides lawyers and other legal professionals with current, practical and innovative content developed by some of the leading voices on legal technology.

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