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Features | Frontlines | Technology | Business

March 2009 Issue | Volume 35 Number 2 | Page 36


Whether you’re just getting started or you’ve been at it for a while, these pointers will help you be a better IM user.

1. If you’re new to IM, cut your teeth by sending messages to family members who already know how to use this nifty tool. (A hint for parents: Your kids will probably be your best teachers.)

2. Determine where using IM can be effective in your law practice . Remember that successful IM use focuses on quick questions, mini-updates and the like. Consider these examples:

  • Seeing if someone is available to talk for a few minutes with you rather than playing phone tag.
  • Obtaining answers to yes-or-no questions.
  • Finding out if someone has forgotten to dial into a conference call.
  • Rapidly locating available help for a quick project.
  • Letting people know that you are running late.

3. Standardize on one or two platforms. If, for example, a number of colleagues or clients use MSN Messenger or Google Talk, go with those. Or you can use services like Meebo or Trillian, which provide access to all of the major IM clients.

4. Get to the point and keep it simple in your messages. The point of IM is to limit the amount of chitchat and save time.

5. Avoid acronyms. While acronyms and emoticons like LOL, OMG and ;-) are fine for instant messages to friends, avoid using them in professional communications.

6. Consider “group chat” IM for communicating with more than one person at a time. This can be ideal when you need to schedule a quick meeting or make a yes-or-no decision with a bunch of people.

7. Be very careful about using IM for communicating sensitive or privileged information. IM is for informal communications. Remember that instant messages are electronically stored information, and they’re just as discoverable in a lawsuit as e-mails or other electronic documents.

8. Take care to use the right tool for the job. As convenient as IM is, it is not always a good way to communicate. An e-mail is better when you have a lot of information to relay. And even if the message will be brief, a phone call is better when there is big or bad news to deliver, or if you are afraid of communicating the wrong tone in print.

You should expect IM to be used more frequently in the future—and you should be ready to use it, too. Learn from the kids and get their ideas for how to communicate more efficiently with people using IM. It’s a simple tool, but in some cases, it’s exactly the right tool to get things done.

About the Authors

Dennis Kennedy is an information technology lawyer and legal technology writer based in St. Louis, MO. He is a frequent speaker on technology in law practice and authors the award-winning blog He is coauthor, with Tom Mighell, of The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies (ABA, 2008).

Tom Mighell is a Senior Manager of Consulting at Fios, Inc., an ediscovery services company. A former senior counsel, he is also the immediate Past Chair of ABA TECHSHOW and publisher of the awardwinning legal research blog


Get more collaboration tips from Tom Mighell and Dennis Kennedy at these ABA TECHSHOW 2009 programs:

  • Smart Ways to Work Together: Collaboration Tools and Technologies for Lawyers , Friday, April 3
  • Collaboration Tools for Lawyers Roundtable , Friday, April 3
  • Building Bridges: Collaboration Tools Corporate Clients Will Love, Friday, April 3, with Joel Alleyne


Do you want to learn more about collaboration tools and tactics? Follow these pointers.

  • Listen to your clients and colleagues . Sometimes the best new tools are the ones being used by the people with whom you're already collaborating.
  • Use the Collaboration Tools Wiki , at, a collaborative project for learning about the newest and best collaboration technologies in 18 categories.
  • Read The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together , by Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell (ABA, 2008), which covers collaboration techniques for beginners through advanced users (
  • Visit The Lawyer's Guide to Collaboration blog , at It features news and commentary on how lawyers are using technology to work with clients, co-counsel and others.