What Are the Rules About Texting Clients?

January 30, 2023

As texting becomes more popular professionally, clients expect their firms to adapt. Not surprisingly, nearly half of the 2022 ABA Tech Survey’s respondents said they text their clients “regularly” or “occasionally.”

While most respondents said email is still their preferred method for attorney-client communications, texting is gaining ground. It’s convenient and it can be an effective way to streamline client communications, get quick answers to questions, and strengthen client engagement.

Yet the rules around texting clients aren’t always clear. There are ethical and other considerations to keep in mind, especially around sensitive client information.

Six considerations when texting clients:

    1. Expectations. From the start, clarify with clients which channels you’re available on — text, email, phone — and how often to expect communications. Ideally, these details should be included in your client representation or engagement agreement.
    2. Client preference. If a client is comfortable texting, establish which topics are appropriate, such as scheduling a meeting or sending a court date reminder, and which aren’t, such as complex legal issues or personal problems. Also be mindful of the confidentiality and data privacy issues outlined below, and make sure your client is too.
    3. Timeliness. For a quick answer to a simple question or confirmation of receipt, texting can be an efficient way to exchange information. But email may be more courteous if you’re not under a tight deadline or if you’re working off hours.
    4. Confidentiality and data protection. Use an encrypted text messaging service — rather than regular SMS messaging, the most common form of text messaging — to protect your texts. Otherwise, texting isn’t a secure mode for sending information, and people other than the phone’s owner may see them.
    5. Record-keeping. If you text clients, first make sure your firm has a procedure for text-message documentation. Texts do not create an easily searchable archive the way emails do, especially if multiple people are on a thread. Emails are preferable when you need to create a record you might return to later.
    6. Formality. Always keep correspondence courteous and professional. Use emojis or gifs sparingly — or avoid them entirely — as it can be difficult to interpret their meaning.

Law firm leaders know, of course, that they should communicate with clients in the way that clients prefer. As texting becomes a more popular mode of professional communication, understanding the potential risks involved can help you create a plan that accommodates what clients want and protects sensitive information.