- The question then becomes, how do lawyers better engage clients with the assistance of technology?
“My clients just aren’t tech-savvy.” If I had a nickel for every time a lawyer told me this, I’d be doing quite well. It’s true that clients don’t always come off as technologically savvy. They may be clumsy with it, may be nervous meeting with a lawyer or may be responding to the lawyer’s own lack of technological skill.
But we are in the age of technology. I’d bet that if we were a fly on the wall of our clients’ lives, we’d see that many more of them are successfully engaged with technology than we think. Most people in America carry around a computer more powerful than that used on the first moon landing. Most can shop Amazon and other online retailers without customer support. Many spend hours in front of devices, for work and for pleasure.
The question then becomes, how do lawyers better engage clients with the assistance of technology? What technologies should we employ to reach our clients and gain their trust and confidence when using technology with us?
Every law firm has technology it uses, or could use, to communicate with clients. Common tools include email, documents, spreadsheets, videoconferencing and telephones. Less common, but worth considering, are document assembly, electronic questionnaires, client portals, project tracking, and texting and chat applications.
Adopting a new technology often gives a firm a competitive advantage at first. But once it is commonly used in the marketplace—is no longer a “new” technology— it no longer gives a competitive edge; instead it is a necessity. For example, electronic payment processing, once novel, is now the standard.
Sometimes new products will make older, less productive products recede in importance or become obsolete. It remains to be seen whether the telephone will recede or disappear altogether, as videoconferencing is more widely adopted.
The challenge with being an early adopter of any technology is that it is imperfect. The technology and its best use case are still being determined. If something does not work, or if it’s a struggle to get it to work, this mars a client’s confidence. Some will pull back from using what “feels difficult” or if the user experience is not optimal. But you can overcome this barrier.
First, pick products that have been sufficiently beta-tested and feel fully designed. Second, customize. The large majority of products are customizable, but rarely do lawyer-buyers spend the time to build features out. Make the time or hire an expert who can make the product uniquely your firm’s before you use it with your clients.
Third, beta-test it yourself. If you have a few stalwart regular or tech-interested clients, you can beta-test their user experience. Otherwise, use family and friends to give it a whirl. Ask them what things look like, what isn’t working and what confuses them. Kick the tires until you have worked out all the kinks.
Fourth, become a highly proficient user yourself and help your team become highly proficient. Take time to formally train on the product. Create written scripts, handouts and videos that guide users through any of the parts that tripped up testers. For example, if you are adopting a client portal, create short videos that show a client how to create their login and password, how to access their files, how to upload documents to the portal, and how to find and answer your questionnaires.
Next, create processes to introduce the firm systems and technologies to the client. For example, describe your client portal on your website; mention it in the consultation. Identify it in the fee agreement as the best way to communicate with the firm and define when it is appropriate to use the portal.
After you have accepted a client, have your legal assistant schedule a videoconference with the client to walk through the logging in process, to explain what is there in the portal and to answer any questions. Emphasize that this is the way clients have the best access to the latest information and to their lawyer. Follow up with an email or text that gives them the how-to videos and a simple message that directs them to the portal.
Another part of the process is redirecting clients who use other, unwanted methods of communication. Staff should become adept at directing clients to the portal and helping them log in by resending the videos or screen-sharing for real-time demonstrations.
If a client cannot pick up the technology tools after a few redirections, ask whether your technology and processes are user-friendly enough to learn. Or is this someone uninterested, unwilling or unable to engage in technology?
If it is the former, think about what the firm needs to develop to get it to where it needs to go. If it is the latter, ask whether the firm is willing to create another, non-technological communication avenue for this client and other clients like them. By the way, the answer could be “Yes, for a price.” Consider whether there should be two tiers to pricing: one lower price for those who help themselves by using technology and a higher price for those who opt out. The client who answers their own question by looking on the client portal costs the firm less labor, so it is reasonable to think of them as more affordable clients. When you are making this calculation do not omit the cost of technology, implementation and customizations.
What communication technology should lawyers buy? The good news is there are many wonderful technologies. The bad news is there are so many, it can be overwhelming. Many are mentioned here, and new ones are released every day. Instead of recommending one to add to your burgeoning “tech stack,” here are five guiding principles to find the technology that will work best:
The paradox in all of this is that technology—this nonhuman robot thing—will help us humans communicate better, but only when humans tell it everything to say and do. Help it do its job, and it will help you do yours.