Often we talk about the importance of effectively communicating with our clients, but what does that mean? Here are the 7 C’s of effective communication, applicable to both written and oral communication:
- Completeness: Convey all facts, leaving no question in the mind of the receiver, which will assist in better decision making.
- Conciseness: Convey what you need to say in the least amount of words possible. It saves time, is not repetitive, and highlights the main message by avoiding excessive and needless words.
- Consideration: Envision the recipient’s background and modify your words to suit their needs.
- Clarity: Emphasize a specific message or goal, rather than trying to convey too much in a single message.
- Concreteness: Be specific rather than general. Concreteness will reduce the chances of messages being misinterpreted.
- Courtesy: Your message should convey your expression and respect the recipient. It should be sincerely polite and positive, and not biased.
- Correctness: Ensure there are no grammatical errors in your communication.
Most clients prefer email correspondence as their primary means of communication. The 7 C’s will help ensure you communicate effectively.
Email communication: Confirming receipt and review
With today’s technology, it is not uncommon for lawyers to communicate with the clients via email but sending an email does not guarantee that the message has been received or reviewed. Setting up your default notification to confirm receipt and review can help. If you are using Outlook, here’s how you do it:
- Under “Tools” at the top left of your Outlook screen, select “options”;
- Under the “Preferences” tab, select “email options” under Email heading;
- Select “Tracking Options” and under “For all messages I send, request” select the two checkboxes for “read receipt” and “delivery receipt”.
This will assist you with tracking your email communication. If the email to your client includes an important deadline, do not rely solely on that form of communication. Set up a bring-forward system with your assistant to confirm that emails have been received and reviewed by your clients, otherwise a missed email reminder may result in a missed limitation.
It’s easy to fall into the habit of directing staff via email, whether in the next office or from your Blackberry. However, it just can’t replace face-to-face human interaction. The ABA Legal Technology Resource Center reports that a survey published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (also reported in Wired, the Independent, and elsewhere) shows that people correctly interpret the tone of an email only 50% of the time. However, people think they’ve interpreted tone correctly 80% of the time, and senders believe they have conveyed their intended tone 90% of the time. The sender can hear his intended tone in his head, while the receiver interprets the message according to myriad factors, such as mood or previous experience. So be careful when you’re assigning tasks. Get up and walk around once in a while. Communicate. Show your smiling face to others. It will make a difference.
Resist Communicating with Clients via Work Email!
You may lose privilege in a hurry by communicating with clients at work, especially if they are using their work email address. Remember that employers have the right to monitor employees email. Many employees have agreed that they will not use their computers for personal purposes and acknowledged that employers have the right to monitor them. The most cautious attorneys advise clients to write only from home and using a personal email address.
Using BCC in Outlook email
Email has become one of the easiest and most efficient ways of communicating with our clients. We can copy them on correspondence with a simple click of the mouse, or blind copy them when we want to do it privately. Here are some tips when using BCC in an email:
- To add or remove the “BCC” option in an email: open an email and under the “options” tab, in the “fields” group, you can choose to show BCC.
- If you want to see the recipients you have included in your BCC field: go under the “sent items” folder and open the message with BCC recipients. All recipients will appear in the header of your message.
- If you are in the BCC file and reply to the email, your secret is out! Everyone in the “to” and “cc” fields will know that you were blind carbon copied. To avoid this from happening, an option is to forward the original email to the recipient afterwards rather than add them to the BCC field.
There are benefits to using BCC: you keep people in the loop even though they are not the primary people you’re sending to, and as the recipient, you won’t receive any emails from those in the “to” or “cc” field who Reply All during an email conversation.
Creating priority email folders in MS Outlook
Folders created in Outlook are listed in alphabetical order. Here’s how to create a new folder that shows up in alpha order, but forces the folder to appear at the top of the list.
Suppose you want to create a new folder to organize your emails regarding the mandatory CPD requirement. If you create that folder, it will be listed alphabetically under M for Mandatory, which forces you to scroll through your folders until you get to the “M”s. If you want to have that folder appear near the top of the list, simply put in a special character before the M. All titles that begin with a special character will appear at the top of the list. Here’s how:
- Open Outlook Mail
- Put your cursor over Inbox on the left-hand side
- Right-click and choose ‘New Folder’
- In the box for the name of the folder, type in a special character (such as a period, or the @ symbol) and then Mandatory CPD
- Click OK
- Now look at the list of folders on the left and you’ll see the Mandatory CPD folder you just created, except it will be at the top of the list, making it easier for you to find and save your email correspondence!
Written Email and Cell Phone Policies Prevent Problems
Draft a written email policy for clients to clarify the use of email in your attorney-client relationship. The written policy is meant to control the client’s expectations and set forth how you deal with email. In today’s fast-moving world of almost instant communication, clients are expecting immediate answers to emails. Despite the client’s expectations, such e-mails may require thought and, possibly, research. If your client understands that you may take several days to respond to an important email, the client will not become impatient waiting for you to respond. The client should also be made aware of the non-confidential nature of email and cell phone conversations and should specifically authorize you to communicate in this manner. Include this authorization in your retainer agreement. Sample wording includes:
Notwithstanding our diligence, we cannot guarantee the security of communications via the internet, or via cellular communication. Your signature on the within agreement constitutes your consent for us to exchange information electronically.
I authorize communication by email: _____________ (client initials)
I authorize communication by cell phone: ______________ (client initials)
Survey Software for Client Surveys
Various programs and free services allow you to survey clients, colleagues, or focus groups regarding various items. Whether it is a client service survey, a query regarding a planned change in firm practice, or a needs assessment, these tools can assist you in collecting, organizing, and ranking information collected. Check out www.vovici.com and www.surveymonkey.com.
Multiple E-mail Addresses
Use several different email addresses for different functions and roles. For instance, a Yahoo address can be used for email related to volunteer work, or a Gmail address for customer notices and offers. Another address can be used for listserv sign ups. This will save your email inbox from the clutter that comes with certain activities. Bear in mind, however, that whatever email address you use to send mail likely will be the one captured by the recipient for getting back in touch with you. So don’t send messages from your office account to recipients that you don’t want to have your office address.
As email becomes the primary form of business communication, we need to remember some basic rules to avoid getting to sloppy: Include a descriptive subject line; add a personal salutation; use full sentence structure proper grammar; check your spelling; add a proper closing, such as TIA, Sincerely, etc.; remove old signatures and unnecessary clutter. Taking just a few extra seconds will payoff with improved relations with clients, opposing counsel, new acquaintances, and potential new clients. You’re asking folks to pay serious money for your services – make sure you send e-mail that appear as professional as the letters you send!
Sending an Outlook email message with a reminder
Many lawyers rely on email because it is a quick and efficient to correspond with our coworkers, colleagues and clients. However, once we hit the “send” on our email message, we sometimes switch our focus to other tasks and any followup required of the email we have just sent is simply overlooked. So what can you do to avoid that from happening? If you use Microsoft Outlook, here’s how:
- In the new message, on the Message tab, in the Options folder (not to be confused with the Options tab!), click Follow up (Look for the red flag).
- On the Follow Up menu, scroll down and click Add Reminder (Look for the bell).
- A message box will pop up, allowing you to customize your reminder. Select the time and date in the lists next to the reminder box. Once you do, click OK. You will see that the reminder now appears in the InfoBar of the email message.
There are many add-ons you can purchase to optimize your Outlook, but this quick and easy feature can help ensure that your email correspondence does not fall between the cracks.
Return Phone Calls on a Timely Basis
Be prompt in returning your calls. It keeps your client happy. A happy client is much less likely to sue his or her lawyer. Train your clients to always leave the return numbers whenever they leave a message. Document in your file details of the conversation, including all instructions received and advice given. You may want to consider using voice recognition software such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking to help you in documenting your file.