Slack as a client communication tool: Bad idea or Worst idea?
- April 12th, 2016
- Miles Buckingham
- Comments Off on Slack as a client communication tool: Bad idea or Worst idea?
Recently, a business attorney posting in The Lawyerist proposed that attorneys could use Slack to communicate with clients. As we represent attorneys in legal malpractice actions brought by the clients of those attorneys, we had to stop and ask: Is using Slack to communicate with clients a bad idea, or the worst idea?
What Slack is
Slack is a cloud-based application where users are part of “teams.” Within a team, Slack users create content-specific “channels” which resemble group texts. Direct messages between users are available as well.
Slack’s features are particularly useful for law firms. By accessing case-specific channels, attorneys and paralegals can narrate actions, share work product, and make contributions immediately available to other team members via messaging, notifications, file uploads, and storage. As a result, team members are able to stay instantly apprised of each development in a given matter. With the help of on-screen popups, team members are instantly notified of developments.
Although Slack serves as an efficient and user-friendly forum for internal communication, implementing Slack as a client communication tool is a different creature. As with internal communication, Slack facilitates easier conversation between lawyers and clients, but therein lies the problem.
Slack and Attorney-Client Communications
By serving as a middle ground between email and texting, Slack has the potential to expedite attorney client communications. However, written communications between attorneys and clients need to be informative and private. While formality is not mandated, every attorney needs to remember that each communication to their client (or communications within their own firm) could end up as an exhibit in a trial against that attorney. Slack, by providing a relaxed means of communication akin to text messaging, can enable (and even encourage) sloppiness, incompleteness, and informality. Slack’s casual format can lead to an attorney becoming far too casual in her communications with clients. This not only detracts from the professional relationship, but can be a liability for the attorney as well.
Slack’s community-centric design can detract from the security and privacy that is expected of attorneys. While email communications are not ideal (see: Reply All button), Slack conversations occurring in real-time, and across many “channels” creates real risks to attorneys and their clients. Consider how often we see tweets posted by a user into the wrong account. Now think about that same opportunity for error, but with attorney-client communications.
Attorneys should be hesitant to abandon the security, privacy, formality, and professionalism that a thoughtful writing encourages. Email is not the best for this, but it is better than texting, better than Slack, and better than whatever comes next. Bad habits form quickly, and the easiest and fastest means of operation are not always the most advisable. In the case of substantive client communications, Slack, in its current form, may be the worst idea.