Should clients own your personal time?

Reducing client demands in the age of on-demand information
By Stephanie Fox
Director of Small Law Firm Marketing at Thomson Reuters

According to a study done by the Pew Research Center, 95% of Americans own cell phones and all but 10% are online. Last year, 77% of Americans owned smartphones, up from just 35% in 2011; texting, talking, emailing, and going online dominate smartphone use. In addition, the 2016 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report found that 93% of attorneys at small firms use smartphones regularly for law-related tasks and 89% of them use their smartphone to make phone calls or to email, while 61% use their smartphones for text messaging.

Given these statistics, it’s inevitable that clients will be tempted to contact their attorneys when they have a question regardless of the time of day. Many legal professionals voluntarily give clients their cell phone numbers and, as a result, get calls when they theoretically are “off the clock.” Emails and text messages, while slightly less intrusive than phone calls, also create the expectation of a timely response. The need for immediate answers is highest among clients going through an intense emotional experience, such as the dissolution of a marriage or after suffering a personal injury. In this day and age of instant communication, the relationship between the law firm and its clients has changed; technology has given the consumer more power than ever – and rapid responses are largely expected to be the norm.

Being constantly connected has its pros and cons, as many in the legal industry would attest. While off-hours discussions and reassurances are increasingly part of the landscape in a competitive legal services market, they raise the question of whether attorneys should succumb to the trend, or rather, find ways to reduce clients’ demands on their personal time. What if there was a way to have the best of both worlds?

Step One: Use Personal Availability to Build Your Brand

Remaining available to clients after hours may actually give an attorney the upper hand when compared to legal professionals who decide to disconnect once the work day is done. Eric Nilsson, an attorney at Nilsson Brandt, P.A., is often expected to be available at any time for his clients and doesn’t see it as a bad thing, “I don’t mind the 24/7 availability. I see it as a part of my brand and it differentiates me from other law firms.”

Providing clients with the option to communicate at their convenience just might be the deciding factor for those seeking an attorney. Attorneys who are happy to answer questions day or night may be chosen over legal professionals who want to keep the conversation strictly 9-5.

Step Two: Tactfully Protect Your Personal Time

Although attorneys like Nilsson are fully willing to embrace the evolving legal market when it comes to client communication, legal professionals still value their time away from work. For those who appreciate the joys of downtime, providing clients online access to documents and information regarding the status of their case can reduce demands on the attorney’s time without upsetting the client. A practice management system with a built-in client portal can make this dream a reality. With a client portal, you can securely exchange messages, documents, forms, and other case details with your clients in a secure, encrypted environment. This means you can easily communicate and collaborate with your clients during business hours, and protect your personal time from client texts and phone calls.

While 24/7 availability may influence a prospective client when choosing an attorney, it’s a safe bet that many people still respect and understand the need for personal time after work. If the clients can get the answers they need when they need them without having to text, email, or call the attorney directly, everyone wins.

Published: August 24, 2017

About the author 
Stephanie Fox is director of Small Law Firm Marketing at Thomson Reuters. She is dedicated to understanding the world of general practice attorneys, including how they manage their practices, collaborate with their clients, and generate revenue for their firms.