Learning to communicate with clients in the age of information overload
The widespread adoption of e-mail in the workplace has made
written communication with clients much simpler and faster. Prior
to the 1990's, if you wanted to write to a client, you had to print
out a letter, address an envelope and pay for postage. Electronic
communication changed all that. Now with a few simple clicks, your
message is not only on its way but in the inbox of the recipient in
a matter of seconds. On top of that, social media and other on-line
content has created an explosion of information that is readily
available right in a browser window.
Overall, the advent of e-mail has been a huge improvement for most
lawyers. But as with any new technology, there have been a host of
unintended consequences as a result of change in how we
communicate. One large unintended consequence is that most
attorneys are put in the position of having much more to read (and
less time to read it). Since sending an e-mail message is so easy,
clients and lawyers alike have more to communicate. Even worse is
that electronic communication has created much higher expectations
about how quickly one might receive a response.
The end result is that you need to employ a new set of
communication strategies if you want your messages to break through
the "noise." This is true whether you are communicating with
prospective clients and referral sources or with active clients
with live matters.
In order to manage the volume of messages that end up in one's
inbox each day, many people resort to skimming. So what are some
ways to make it easier for e-mail recipients to skim your
- Use descriptive subject lines that are likely to get the
attention of the recipient.
- When replying to an e-mail, consider changing the subject line
particularly if you are changing the subject.
- Make use of bulleted lists and other formatting tools like
underlining, bold, italics and even red text.
- Try to cover only one subject in each message and limit your
message to a few sentences. If you address several unrelated
issues in the same message, you increase the likelihood that the
reader will ignore at least one of them.
- If you need to provide a lot more depth, use links and
attachments to provide the reader with more detail. Don't overwhelm
them in the body of the message.
- If you do not get a response, consider resending the same
message indicating that it is your second attempt. People who
get too much e-mail everyday tend to ignore older messages once
they have moved down the queue considerably. A friendly "not sure
if you received this" is one way to get back to the top of the
Tip courtesy of Stephen Seckler, president, Seckler Legal
Consulting and Coaching.
Published March 22, 2012
To learn more about the Law Practice Management
Section, which is complimentary for all MBA members,
contact LPM Section Chair Thomas J. Barbar or Vice