Volume 18, Number 4
Staying in Touch
By Edward Poll
The real power of the Internet has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with people! The Internet’s perfect role is enabling communication among people so they can stay in touch, build professional relationships, and help one another.
If the Internet were nothing more than e-mail, that would be enough! E-mail makes our interpersonal communications vastly more convenient and efficient. People send and respond to messages to suit their schedules; no more telephone tag. And, of course, e-mail is probably the best form of communication between people who are physically far apart.
Despite some lingering complaints about e-mail (it’s too impersonal, people like to hear the voice of the other person, it’s too difficult to type a conversation), not many can deny that it is the communication method of choice for lawyers. Here is how some are using it:
Communicating with clients. When initially interviewing prospective clients, a good question to ask is "How do you prefer to conduct your communications? Do you have e-mail? Would you prefer that I e-mail updates on the progress of your matter?" This tells the client that you care about how they do business (without forcing them into your communications mold). During this conversation, you also should bring up expectations of e-mail response time—clients should not expect you to respond within minutes after they send you an electronic message; they must allow you adequate time to receive the e-mail and review the issue or question. If you manage their expectations, they will be reasonable and more patient in waiting for your response.
Connecting with colleagues. The same considerations are appropriate in dealing with colleagues. Ask if they have e-mail and if that is an acceptable or preferred method of communicating. Many lawyers are so busy during the day that they respond to e-mails in the evening. This avoids "small talk," which, in turn, saves time.
Fewer delays. E-mail is also a great way to transmit documents without the delays inherent in transporting them by air or land. With today’s quality computer applications, the transmission of documents via electronic media is secure (though some might argue this point) and much faster than by any other method. Lawyers in different parts of the country or the world now can edit and make changes to documents on the same day.
Other Internet methods of staying in touch. Online bulletin boards are the equivalent of kiosks where you go to write a note for others to see; others then read the messages and respond to those of interest to them. E-mail discussion lists or listservs are similar to bulletin boards, except they tend to be far more active, and information is passed from one person to the rest of the group by e-mail; logging onto a website is not required. This method is perfect for those who are too busy to connect to another Internet site; messages appear in your e-mail in-box. While listservs can generate a lot of electronic traffic, lawyers who do not have the time or inclination to read or respond to all the messages need only hit the delete key. They can scan the subject lines and participate selectively as their time and interests permit.
Lawyers Helping Lawyers
Solosez (firstname.lastname@example.org), originally created by ABA General Practice Section, is a listserv with lawyers talking to each other all over the world. The price of admission is zero. The conversation goes from the mundane (food recipes), to important issues of the day (you should have seen the dialogue during the Florida election debacle!), to the practical, including referrals.
For example, when a client of mine had an issue in Colorado, I needed to get Colorado counsel in an area far enough from Denver that I had no contacts. I requested help online through Solosez, and within a matter of minutes I was given the names of three lawyers to call in the rural community. Not only was my client pleased with the quick response, but also the lawyer appreciated receiving the new business.
Another listserv whose members include lawyers—although the discussion is directed more to law firm marketing directors—can be found at www.lawmarketing.com. The conversation among leading marketing directors is informative, and for those lawyers interested in marketing, this is an outstanding resource. And the price is also right—free.
The Community Loop, LexisOne (http://community. lexisone.com/theloop/loop_index.html), is a recently created bulletin board providing valuable resources and information to lawyers. It is free, and forums are set up in many of the law’s technical areas: labor, tax, etc. In addition, practice management areas include technology, ethics, and client development. While Lexis and LexisOne are powerful players in the legal profession, the jury is still out as to whether their bulletin board concept will work.
Portal Sites for Lawyers
Lawcommerce.com (www.lawcommerce. com) is a bulletin board that not only offers practical information on a variety of subjects but also addresses the purchasing needs of lawyers. Through this portal site, many different products and services may be purchased online. For example, lawcommerce.com has a relationship with Office Depot, and all their products are available; you can also purchase travel services there. The charter members of this site include many of the top law firms in the country, and based on their collective purchasing power, the small firm and sole practitioner may be able to buy at competitive prices. In situations such as this, however, it is always buyer beware! Make sure you know what you want and what the going prices are for any product or service in order to determine whether you are getting a "deal." The lawcommerce.com site also includes many forms and agreements used by lawyers in their daily practice. And there is a special forum for sole and small firm practitioners. Check it out; it’s a growing website.
Other sites for lawyers to consider: www.lawoffice.com (a West Group site), www. martindale.com (owned by Lexis), and www.law.com (includes informative articles from another economically strong player in the legal community). In addition, West Group recently acquired www.findlaw.com, one of the most extensive sites on the Internet for lawyers. You can get there directly or by clicking on FindLaw from www.law.com.
In a recent column, I mentioned payroll services offered on the Internet. Another one to consider in this field is www.powerpay.com. And, for those who would like to learn more about the Internet and e-commerce, the Berkman Center for E-Commerce at Harvard Law School (www.cyber.law.harvard.edu) is offering leading-edge discussions about this aspect of the law. Topics include website design contracts, hosting and maintenance agreements, access provider liability, security and marketing, and rights of privacy.
Edward Poll, J.D., M.B.A., CMC, is a certified management consultant who coaches lawyers on practice development and increasing profits. He is the author of the new second edition of Attorney & Law Firm Guide to the Business of Law . He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.