Text messaging (also known as SMS, short message service) is a common way of communicating. Instead of picking up the phone or drafting an email, many like the ease and quickness of sending a text. For this reason, many clients are tempted to text their lawyer in a divorce or family law matter.
Text communications can be short and to the point. Clients can also attach photos and videos to texts. Because so many clients texts friends and family members, many are looking to text their lawyer about their divorce or family law matter.
Should clients text their divorce or family lawyer? Is texting an effective form of communication for most clients going through a divorce or family law matter?
Like various other areas, there are not necessarily black and white rules in terms of texting. There are also no rules or statutes that explicitly prohibit lawyers from texting their clients per se. Some lawyers might also be willing to text their clients, while other lawyers might not want to do so. Some lawyers may not even be tech-savvy enough to text with their clients.
However, even if a lawyer is willing to tex, there are some risks that individuals going through a divorce or family law matter should keep in mind:
First, texting is often short and to the point, as explained above. The lawyer or the client can sometimes misinterpret the shortness of the communication, which can cause poor communication, an increase in fees and frustration. Many conversations instead require a lot more dialogue and analysis than a short text message exchange.
Second, texting is not always the most secure way of communication. In other words, texting is not encrypted communication. The fact that the communication is not encrypted can make it easier for others to intercept or read the conversation.
Third, it is also conceivable that a client might lay their phone down and somebody else (like the spouse who a party is divorcing, but has not separated from yet) could easily pick it up and read the communication. With texts, it can be quick and easy to see recent communication. If this were to occur, attorney-client privileged communication would be put in jeopardy.
Fourth, text communication often does not make its way into a client’s file. Text communication often does not make its way to a client’s file because it can be hard for a lawyer to print off the texts and actually get them in there. It can often be quite cumbersome for the law firm or lawyer (and expensive for the client in terms of legal fees) to regularly print off the text communication and get it into the file. Thus, when a client requests their file at the end of the case, the text communication might not be there in some law firms. As it relates to important matters, the client may want that text communication if they did not retain it on their own device.
Fifth, text communication lacks the formalness of other types of communication. The lack of formalness can cause some clients to say things spontaneously in the moment to their lawyer that can be damaging to the client attorney-client relationship — if they are upset or angry about something.
For most clients, if they need to communicate with their lawyer in writing, it makes more sense to write an email instead. Email is usually encrypted, which makes it more secure. Email is also a bit more formal and allows for lengthier communication. The lengthier communication can often lead to better and more effective communication.
Additionally, it is much easier for a lawyer to print off an email chain and put that chain into the client file versus a text message communication. For most clients, they appreciate this on the back-end when the case is over.
Finally, while texting is easy and convenient, with most smartphones, a client can send an email just as quickly as a text. Thus, almost nothing is lost by sending an email versus a text in terms of convenience.
Of course, phone calls, video conference or in-person meetings can often be more effective than even an email communication. While many clients want instant answers in the heat of the moment, if the situation can wait, the best communication can often take place by phone, video conference or in-person.