So it is time for your critical meeting with the Client. Are they coming to your office, or are you going to theirs? Or, maybe it is the new option: Let’s just meet on the cloud. An article this past week in the ABA Journal documents a pretty dramatic turn toward the latter, with attorneys and clients increasingly relying on online meetings via videoconferencing software like Zoom. The article, “Consumers increasingly desire remote legal services,” reports on a survey by the legal software company Clio. The survey was conducted this past May and June with 1,002 American respondents, and fully 79 percent reported that the option to work remotely with a lawyer is an important factor in the decision to hire. That may sound like common wisdom at this point, but it is a figure that has tripled in just the past few years. In 2018, just 4 percent of survey respondents indicated a preference for communicating with their attorney by videoconference, but this year, that figure is up to 58 percent who preferred videoconferencing for a first meeting or consultation with their lawyer.
Clio CEO and co-founder Jack Newton reports, “The idea of a bricks-and-mortar law office being the primary place that lawyer-client interactions happen is gone—and gone for good.” Trends that were already underway before 2020 were juiced by the pandemic. Newton continues, “In just three years, we’ve gone from a tiny fraction of consumers being open to video calls to video becoming a critical aspect of how most clients want to communicate.” As a result, lawyers shouldn’t assume that we’ll simply slump back to normal in-office meetings once the pandemic subsides, particularly since that end-date has been pretty uncertain and changeable. Instead, we should prepare for remote client meetings as a routine offering. Previously, I’ve offered advice specific to remote witness preparation meetings. In this post, I will share five additional communication tips and reminders for client meetings generally.
Don’t Assume In-Person Is the Default
We might assume that in-person communication is always the best communication, but in truth, there are trade-offs with all forms of communication. Most of us have now realized that, with the full and constant focus on the face that is a feature of web conferencing, it is more intimate and direct than we might have expected prior to 2020. In addition, you and your client may not want to add the travel time, or the experience of being in an unfamiliar office. One or both of you might also appreciate the ability to be on the laptop and able to easily share documents.
Keep Some Unstructured Conversation
There is a “Let’s get down to business,” feeling that can accompany remote meetings. That, along with a “Zoom fatigue” can make those meetings shorter than their in-person counterparts. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing (and your clients might appreciate it from a billing perspective), but particularly at the early stages of your relationship, remember that informal communication still plays a very important role. You still need to get a sense of their personality, comfort, and character, as they need a sense of yours. So be conscious of that and make some time for it.
Touch Base More Often
When talking with parties going through the lawsuit process, I have heard the complaint more than once that, “I only hear from my attorney when something is going wrong.” While that probably isn’t literally true, it helps to remember that professionals who work in fields other than law are not necessarily used to those long stretches where nothing is happening, and therefore, there’s nothing to report. The remote meeting is a quick and easy way to stay in touch, to show your clients that you are still there and still thinking about their case.
Remember That Good Communication Still Matters
Don’t just open your laptop and angle it towards your face. Instead, take the time to ensure you’re in a place with good lighting, with most of that light being in front of your face rather than behind it, with a good and non-distracting background, and an elevation for the camera that puts it roughly at eye level. Also make sure that you or someone in your work-space knows the technology well enough that no one needs to be guessing at the controls. Seeing and hearing each other clearly are preconditions for good communication.
Provide a Reminder and a Record on Confidentiality
In an in-person meeting, you know who is present, but in an online setting, you will need to confirm:
Is it correct that I am talking with just you, and there is no one else in the room, and no one else within earshot?
Is it also correct that no one is making a recording of this conversation or otherwise making a record of this meeting?
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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.
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