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Client Communication in the Texting Era

Clients come in every shape and size, and every client has a different set of expectations from outside counsel. And “every client” means each individual at the same company has a different style and set of needs that needs to be known, hence our mantra: One Size Fits One.

While each client will have individual communication preferences, one consistent theme throughout our years of doing interviews is the expectation that lawyers avoid crafting long, drawn-out memos and instead get to the point — not just get to the point but actually use bullet points.

Most clients are usually taking the advice that outside counsel give them and then directly communicating that same advice to the internal client. Whether that is the CEO or a mid-level manager, outside counsel are simply creating more work any time they craft a memo that fails to get to the point or provide succinct recommendations.

Man textingIn one recent interview, a senior in-house counsel said, “What I need from every communication from an outside counsel is simply three things. One, what is the matter/issue? Two, what is your recommendation? And three, how will this help us move forward?”

In another conversation with a general counsel, he said, “Sure, PowerPoint is great, and it really needs to be one slide with three bullet points. But most of the time I communicate with my CEO via text.”

That’s the new normal call: texting with clients. We often joke about the lawyer that still sends emails that were clearly dictated and attached as a PDF. But the reality is that even multiple paragraphs in the body of an email fail to deliver on many clients’ expectations around communication from outside counsel.

That same general counsel said, “As we get bigger, that doesn’t mean we have more resources. We are actually getting cheaper, leaner and have more coming at us all the time. If a lawyer can’t communicate in a way that makes my life easier and suits my needs, I’m moving on.”

In a recent training session with a group of law firm lawyers, the subject turned to adding value to the relationship. One lawyer quipped that they always respond to clients’ queries within 24 hours. It has been a long, long time since any in-house counsel, or any client in any role, is comfortable waiting 24 hours for a response from outside counsel.

In an age when in-house counsel are texting with their internal clients, the lawyers that understand and respect that reality are the ones that are going to have the highest client loyalty. The lawyer that fails to respond for 24 hours or communicates without brevity is not going to get the next call from the client. It’s not just about the talent. It’s about serving clients’ needs and communicating effectively for 2016.

This post originally appeared on Bloomberg BNA’s Big Law website on January 22. 

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