Should You Chat Live with Clients Online?

By on June 15, 2012 in Client Intake, Technology

Recently I litigated a family law case where I represented the husband and another attorney (let’s call him Bob) represented the wife. On Bob’s law blog, he installed an instant chat feature where clients (or non-clients) can simply chat with him, an assistant at the firm or an associate right over the website. The clients don’t have to call and they can get in touch with an attorney right away. It sounds like a good idea in principle.

About a week into the litigation, my client told me that he actually looked into hiring his wife’s attorney and even spoke with their firm through the instant chat feature. Are we starting to see the problem here? By the time that the husband spoke with Attorney Bob through his law blog, Attorney Bob already was retained by the wife. Attorney Bob or his associate did a full intake right over the online system. That created a conflict and as soon as I heard this, I asked Attorney Bob to recuse himself from the case. He lost a client.

I’ve been contacted by several companies that will install these instant chat features on my site. I have declined them so far. Are they all bad or the concept inherently bad? Well, no. Like all new technology, you run into trouble when you don’t use it correctly and/or ethically. Bob’s law blog chat feature would be perfectly fine and would conform to ethical rules if before an intake, Bob trained his staff on proper conflict check protocols. That was not done in this case and it wasn’t the fault of the medium. I suspect that this would have been the case even if someone called the office. Does that mean telephones are bad? No.

The takeaway here is that we as lawyers need to embrace technology, but don’t buy new technology just because it’s shiny. Learn to use it ethically, and make sure you can actually train your staff to use it.

Gabriel is a divorce lawyer in Massachusetts.  Follow him on Twitter @GabrielCheong.

Gabriel Cheong

About 

Gabriel Cheong is the owner of Infinity Law Group in Quincy, MA. Gabriel started his own law firm straight out of law school. His law firm grew steadily for the first year until he had the opportunity to purchase the law firm where he once interned in law school. In 2008, Gabriel purchased Infinity Law Group and is now practicing law and managing associates while blogging, twittering, marketing and giving seminars on marketing and law practice management on a regular basis. His law practice is primarily focused on divorce, estate planning and prenuptial agreements. Gabriel currently serves as a council member of the Law Practice Management Section of the Massachusetts Bar Association and is also a board member of Starting Out Solo, Inc., a group devoted to helping attorneys who start a private practice after law school succeed. In his spare time, Gabriel enjoys the company of his 4 house rabbits and Corgi.


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Comments (9)

 

  1. Gabriel, very good real-life example.

    Sounds like their process for handling inbound chat requests needs some re-tooling.

    I wonder whether this problem would have arose had Bob been contacted by email or phone?

  2. Ronald Drescher Ronald Drescher says:

    What do you think about companies like Ngage who outsource the chat function, obtaining only contact and very basic fact information about a prospective client during the online chat and the pass it along to the law firm to follow up?

  3. Gabriel Cheong Gabriel Cheong says:

    I think problems can arise even through email. However, I also think that people are less likely to divulge as much information via email vs when they think an actual lawyer is chatting with them in real time.

    If you’re working with the general public, I think there’s a danger that comes from farming out your intakes. There’s the issue with conflict checks but also, you’re missing the opportunity to engage with your clients for the first time – making that great first impression to showcase your knowledge and getting their business.

  4. Aaron Hines says:

    This is a valid concern with any law firm, but there are methods of limiting the risk of a situation like this occurring when using live chat. A concern I have with this scenario is that the attorney or their staff were the ones using the chat feature, because this adds to the risk you mentioned and is also not an efficient use of their time. The use of Live Chat is effective because the law firm now has the ability to reach out to the visitor on their site instead of passively waiting for them to contact their firm. I am obviously biased cause I work for Client Chat Live but I hear these concerns often when people are looking into our service. Our operators identify themselves as chat operators and that they cannot give legal advice. Their job is to get the visitors contact information and what type of legal help the visitor was looking for. Our system automatically sends the chat to the firm notifying them of a new potential client.
    Gabriel, you are correct that a good first impression is very important, but you have to get the opportunity to make one and a proactive live person has worked better for our clients than a “contact us” form. Because of the concerns attorneys have, we actually now offer a trial to let them decide if it is of value before committing to pay.

    Just wanted to give a perspective from the live chat side.

  5. Boy this one really scares me. Why go looking for problems. Let other attorneys be the trailblazers here if they must; but it ain’t gonna be me sticking my neck out on this new idea.

  6. This is a great and interesting topic. I hope the discussion continues!

  7. Nikki black says:

    I need to talk with asap can u call me now at 6154855605

    • Avvo Admin says:

      Hi Nikki,
      If you have legal questions about the situation you can ask an attorney for free in Avvo’s legal question and answer forum. Lawyers don’t answer questions posted to the NakedLaw blog, but they will answer those posted in the forum. Here is the link to the forum: http://www.avvo.com/ask-a-lawyer

      Thank You,
      Jaime

  8. [...] Should You Chat Live with Clients Online?, Gabriel Cheong shares his experience in which opposing counsel used a chat feature where clients [...]

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