Using Technology to Improve Client Service

Vol. 28 No. 6

By

Catherine Sanders Reach is director of the American Bar Association Legal Technology Resource Center.

Everywhere you look, people are using technology outside the confines of the workplace. And no matter what type of clients you serve, it’s likely they want to be able to use the same technologies for similar conveniences when they’re working with you. Here are some suggestions for incorporating technology tools to give your clients enhanced options so you can meet—and even exceed—their expectations.

Location, location, location. Whether you have a regular brick-and-mortar office or use a rented conference space to meet clients, how about creating a Google Map for your website or e-mail signature to show clients the way? Simply go to maps.google.com and type your address into the search box. Click on the “Link” tool on the upper right and grab the link to the map, or get the code to embed into your website, blog, or signature lines. Don’t forget to add your business address to Google Places for free.

Thanks for the reminder. Most airlines and travel websites offer customers the option to get flight status updates via e-mail, voice, or text messages. Likewise, many doctors’ and dentists’ offices remind patients about upcoming appointments via these same tools. Why don’t law offices do the same?

The start of a new engagement is always a good time to discuss communications preferences with clients, from methods for exchanging confidential information to preferences for receiving other, general communications. At this time you could give clients an option to opt in to get reminders about upcoming appointments via voice, text, or e-mail.

Caring and sharing. Proactive informational updates can be very helpful to your clients—and keep you top of mind with them. For instance, what if you sent an article about a new automotive plant moving into the area to a client that provides recycled aluminum? Or an alert to a client about regulatory actions that are about to affect her business? Setting up alerts is easy. Just go to Google Alerts and type in your keywords. Have the alerts sent to you by e-mail or RSS feed for screening, then forward as appropriate to the respective clients. In addition, if you subscribe to multiple industry-related blogs and news outlets, you can combine them in a single tab on iGoogle and share that tab with clients.

Check, please! There are a number of ethics opinions about accepting credit cards for payment, but most jurisdictions will allow lawyers to accept them for fees for services rendered. If you’re already sending invoices electronically, consider this the next logical step. Although there are costs associated with taking credit card payments, the ease of use for the client—which frequently results in getting paid faster—makes this an option worth exploring.

Some merchant account providers, such as LawPay and LawCharge, are set up to serve law firms specifically. They will deposit all retainers into your IOLTA and take any fees or charge-backs from your operating account. For earned fees, there are also options such as PayPal, although as with any major operator, PayPal enjoys its share of criticism as a vendor.

For your eyes only. As every lawyer knows, maintaining the confidentiality of client information is an ethical foundation of the profession. E-mail, though, presents special issues. ABA Formal Opinion 99-413 states that “a lawyer may transmit information relating to the representation of a client by unencrypted e-mail sent over the Internet without violating the Model Rules of Professional Conduct,” but it follows with the caveat that “a lawyer should consult with the client and follow her instructions, however, as to the mode of transmitting highly sensitive information relating to the client’s representation.” And, in addition to ethical duties, some states have a statutory requirement to encrypt certain types of information in transit.

For adding extra security to electronic communications, your options include employing encrypted e-mail and document transfer through services such as Dialawg, RPost, and ZixCorp.

Sign here. It depends on your practice area, but if you’re a typical law office, you may have a lot of documents that require not only client signatures but also require certain fields to be filled and initialed. For some transactions, this could include multiple signers in a certain order, too. To accomplish this work flow, lawyers frequently turn to tools including traditional mail, e-mail, scanning, and faxing—only to find that someone forgot to complete a field or initial something and it must go out again. Enter the new e-signature solutions that make this process much easier for your clients and you.

Services such as DocuSign and RightSignature make it simple to upload documents, flag required fields and signature blocks, send the documents on to the needed signers and reviewers, and ultimately allow them to “sign” the document with a mouse or stylus.

Make mine to go. Often documents need to fly fast and furious between lawyers and clients, but transmitting them via e-mail can lead to problems with version control, “lost” files, and general confusion. A solution is to give your clients access to their documents in a secure online repository. The lawyer uploads the documents to share with the client, and the client accesses them via a secure log-in. The benefit to the clients includes having all the documents for a matter in a single repository, accessible at their convenience, with the lawyer taking responsibility for document management. You can update or replace the documents as needed, thus eliminating concerns over versions. Vendors offering such services include Clio, NetDocuments, DirectLaw, VLO, Xerdict Group, and PBworks.

Easy, breezy meeting scheduling. Scheduling meetings is often more of an art than a science, with the various parties having to consult their respective calendars and changes, delays, and rescheduling requests occurring at the last minute.

Online scheduling and appointment booking products such as Genbook, Appointment Plus, and BookFresh synchronize with your Outlook or Google calendar and display your free and busy times to your clients and prospects. Then, by simply clicking on a button from your website or using a secure portal, they can select one of your free times and set up an appointment. Some products offer the ability to send out automated appointment reminders, and others let you reschedule and automatically send the rescheduling information. Most of the full-function vendors provide a free trial, with a monthly fee thereafter.

Put your heads together in real time. When a situation needs to be resolved with a detailed discussion or the language in a document needs to be worked out and finalized, sometimes taking an in-person meeting is the quickest way to achieve the end. Getting together for a face-to-face meeting can be difficult. Fortunately, there are numerous web conferencing tools that provide the visual stimulation and human elements of a live meeting, allowing attendees to communicate, collaborate on documents, and even give presentations in real time.

There are many web conferencing services at many price points. Free services such as Mikogo and join.me offer a lot of functionality, primarily useful for sharing and discussing on-screen documents or giving a presentation. Low-cost services such as Yugma add Skype integration, whiteboards, recording, and chat capabilities. More expansive and expensive options, such as WebEx and Microsoft Live Meeting, include video conferencing and VoIP (voice over Internet protocol telephone service).

Do you know how your service rates? Establishing and meeting expectations regarding communication methods will go a long way in ensuring that clients are satisfied with your services. But how do you really know if their expectations are being met? At the end of each matter, you can send a client satisfaction survey using easy web-based survey tools such as SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang.

More Information About the ABA Law Practice Management Section

This article is an abridged and edited version of one that originally appeared on page 36 of Law Practice, January/February 2011 (37:1).

For more information or to obtain a copy of the periodical in which the full article appears, please call the ABA Service Center at 800/285-2221.

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