How tablets can help strengthen attorney-client relationships

March 13, 2013

Law and technology

(Editor’s Note: Throughout the month of March, we’ll be looking at issues involving both the law and technology, whether on the large scale or down to the small scale of an individual practice).

Week 1: Is it illegal to “unlock” your phone? Why?

Today’s computing and communications technologies allow for more mobility in one’s work environment than ever before.

These advancements are not without their detractors, however, many of whom argue that these new mobile technologies have eroded away at the quality of human interactions.

Although this is arguably the case in many situations, there are nevertheless other settings that find these new technologies strengthening the quality of personal human relations.

Perhaps just as significant is that these settings can be found within the legal field – a line of work whose professionals are not exactly renowned for their warm interpersonal skills.

What’s more, mobile technology may be used in such a manner in client meetings, one of the occasions during which human interaction is one of the most important for an attorney.

Said improvement during client meetings can be achieved with a straightforward choice: using your tablet instead of your PC.

Generally, using a tablet – such as an iPad – will foster a much warmer personal setting for your client than using a traditional PC, whether a desktop or laptop.

The reasons are simple, perhaps deceptively so.

First, using a tablet fosters a stronger visual connection between you and your client.

Think about it: let’s say that you’re at your desk during your client meeting; if you’re using your traditional PC, it may partially obstruct the visual connection between you and your client.

Although having clear visual communication during a client meeting isn’t a necessity during phone conversations, it’s absolutely essential during physical meetings.  The presence of any physical impediments to visual contact, even those on the periphery, has a definite impact on how comfortable your client feels during the meeting – and consequently, about how comfortable he or she feels with you.

Even if you have your PC situated to the side so that you aren’t forced to crane your neck to maintain a conversation with your client, the presence of a large machine on your desk can still act to interfere with fostering an environment of transparency between you – an environment that is almost always critical to a case’s success.

Put yourself in the client’s shoes: if you were meeting with someone to discuss very personal or very important matters, and that person was using a computer during the meeting, how would you feel?

Even if she was still engaging in conversation with you, the fact that this person is doing something on a computer that you can’t see may make you feel as though she is hiding something.

It may also make you feel as though the attorney does not believe that you merit her full attention, since she may appear to be dividing her time between you and the computer screen.

If the attorney is taking notes on her PC during the meeting, you may feel paranoid about what she is writing about you, since you are not fully able to read what she is typing.

Would you feel as though you could trust this person?  Would you feel as though this person places a high importance on the issues that are so important to you?  I doubt it.

So how can using your iPad help?

First, the tablet’s size makes it very unobtrusive, creating no barriers, perceived or otherwise, to direct visual contact with your client.

Next, the screen of an iPad is much easier to share with your client.  Aside from simply preventing your client from feeling like you’re hiding something, using a tablet allows you to pull up websites or documents to show to your client, helping to build an environment of transparency and trust.

In addition, using a tablet generally doesn’t require as much time and attention, which, in addition to being able to let your client share in your use of the device, allows the client to feel as though he or she has your undivided attention.

Lastly, opting for a tablet over a traditional PC will greatly improve your client’s experience in regards to your note-taking during the meeting.

Although it may seem an innocuous activity, how your notes are recorded can have a significant impact on your client’s attitudes about the meeting and the professional relationship in general.

As alluded to earlier, it’s very easy for a client to get paranoid about what the attorney is writing down as notes.

He or she may think that the attorney is writing something down that the client is unaware of, and is thus holding back information; or that the attorney may not have written down an important point that the client made.

As such, it’s important for the client to be able to see what notes you are taking, which is difficult to accomplish when taking notes on a traditional PC.

Handwriting your notes, whether on a legal pad or with a stylus on your tablet, is instead preferable since it creates important transparency in this sensitive client relations area.

Despite all of these distinct advantages, tablets, like any other tool, can still be used in such a way as to weaken client relations

Nevertheless, because of their compact and portable nature, tablets have the potential to considerably improve your attorney-client relationships – especially compared to PCs.