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 messages?

  1. Use descriptive subject lines that are likely to get the attention of the recipient.
  2. When replying to an e-mail, consider changing the subject line particularly if you are changing the subject.
  3. Make use of bulleted lists and other formatting tools like underlining, bold, italics and even red text.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 queue.

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 Chair Stephen Seckler.
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