Over the course of my career, I would say that the vast majority of instances where a client came to a lawyer for advice, the lawyer essentially told the client what to do based on that lawyer’s own experience, expertise and knowledge of the law. Under the “lawyer knows best” approach, the client is not expected to understand the legal intricacies or practical reality of his or her legal situation. Even on the holy grail of settlement, where the client has to be informed of the offer and is the only one who can decide whether or not to accept or reject, the emphasis is often on telling the client to accept or reject rather than educating the client and letting them decide for themselves.
Technology allows us to push a lot of information and access to our clients. Our model is devoted to helping the client understand the key legal principles involved and practical realities of the legal process.
As lawyers, we often forget that we have a duty to keep our clients informed and that cover letters with attached materials is old school. Technology allows us to keep clients informed at a much higher level than previously. Email and extranet updates are real-time. Digital scanning allows clients’ entire files to available online. Online case management systems allow clients to see in real-time what’s happening on their case. GoToMeeting allows remote clients to share your desktop so you can go over key information and legal principles point by point so the client has the best opportunity to understand. Mind mapping software allows clients to be presented with information in decision trees which easily lay out information, options and strategic decisions. Digital dictation allows lawyers to push information, thoughts, analysis and background at multiples of ten, fifty or a hundred times more than the standard mailed cover letter. Extranets and email allow clients to push information back upstream to lawyers, share thoughts and pose questions without picking up the phone.
One of the often overlooked benefits of all of this technology is the reduction in the prospect for a malpractice claim. Well informed clients cannot complain about an absence of information or being frozen out of key decisions. Technology allows clients to be so heavily involved in their own legal problem that expectations can be set and reset throughout the matter. This leads the lawyer to simply do what lawyers are paid to do. Get the law right, understand how the law applies to the facts and present options to the client as well as their best recommendations.
Old school lawyers who have failed to adapt with information age technologies not only run the risk of losing the competitive advantage on issues of value and client service, but fail to reduce the risk of malpractice claims.
If you are using technology in new and innovative ways to clients informed, I would be interested to know what your thoughts are about if and how you believe the malpractice risk is reduced.