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February 25, 2008

E-mail Auto Responding to Clients - Yeah or Nay?

Recently, there was an intriguing discussion on a listserv where one member felt very 'unimportant' when a colleague responded to her e-mail inquiry with an e-mail autoresponse stating he returned e-mail correspondence during certain hours.  A discussion ensued about why this could be very off-putting to clients, yet others felt it was responsible and allowed the attorney to manage his time better as well as managing the client's expectations.

I don't have a problem with the idea of an autoresponder outlining times the attorney responds to client e-mails:

1.  E-mail autoresponses are no different then voice mail messages.  It's a pre-programmed response to a client's contact. If the attorney handles it correctly, the client knows to pick up the phone and get immediate attention, if not from the lawyer, then from their assistant or service.

2. The impact of the autoresponse turns on how appropriate the message is and what your client's expectations and understandings were at time of engagement.

3.  Providing as the attorney you have informed the client up front what your availability is for e-mail communications, then an autoresponse which confirms that which the client already has agreed to should not be off-putting.

4.  When a client gets your autoresponse they know their e-mail was received. (This is key.)

5.  If you promise a time when you will respond, you had better respond or have a very good reason why you did not live up to your autoresponse message. (Which means, don't forget to update for specific events in your life like vacations, days in court, etc.  Good autoresponses update almost daily just like many thoughtful attorneys' voicemail messages.)

And the irony, the discussion indicated they were put out because it seemed the autoresponse message was taken directly from a page in Tim Ferriss' book "The Four Hour Work Week."

Here are the links to Tim Ferriss' blog discussing this very issue at "How to Stop Checking E-Mail on the Evenings and Weekends" and "The Best and Worst Autoresponders of 2007."

The most important lesson from this, in my opinion, is to understand every contact the client has with your law firm should be greeted with your firm's unified client-service policies which should be clearly stated at the time of retention.   And your policies may very well be instantaneous responses because it works with your own time management programs and client service philosophies. 

Every contact is an opportunity to reinforce a positive relationship with client....or you risk client alienation and you may never know why. Which would you prefer?

(I have heard there are programs which allow the autoresponder to give this message only once to a an e-mail message from a new e-mail address but this will have to be researched further.  If someone knows of this technology, please let us know.)

Related Links:  Overusing E-mail Can Turn Clients Off


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Gather No Moss

I tried it for about 2 months, and a lot of people got angry with me. I wouldn't recommend it.

Susan Cartier Liebel

What did you say in your autoresponse? What were the complaints? Please share.

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