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What Lawyers Should Know About Client Portals

What's your preferred way of communicating with clients? An in-person meeting? On the phone? Over email? Through a client portal? My guess is, not the last one. But maybe it should be.

Client portals can provide a safer, easier way to keep in touch with clients, avoiding some of the dangers of email. Here's what you should know about them.

Client Portals 101

If you have a document for a client to review, you might shoot them a quick email. If they have a question or concern, they might email you too. But email, as ubiquitous as it is, is hardly the most secure form of communication. Confidential communications can be intercepted by hackers, email tracking software, the federal government, even your IT intern. Indeed, email is so insecure that some groups have even recommended that lawyers stop using it.

A client portal can avoid some of these email-related risks. Client portals, or communication portals, are a protected section of your website dedicated to client communications. You give a client a unique login credential, they go to "myfirm.com/communications" or the like, log in, and your messages, files, and other communications are right there.

There are a few clear benefits to this method. First, since you control the portal, you don't have to worry about a client's sloppy email habits. Second, since you're not passing things back and forth, there are fewer points where communications could be intercepted or compromised. And, perhaps best of all, your communications security will be handled by a specialized third party, someone with significant expertise in protecting your info.

A Client Portal Is Right Around the Corner

If setting up a client portal seems daunting, don't worry. "May lawyers already have the technical capability for client portals provided within their practice management software solutions," according to Jim Calloway, who recently moderated a webinar on client portals for the ABA. All you've got to do is take advantage of the offering, and dedicate a bit of time to establishing a clear, comprehensive firm policy on client communications.

Using client portals is a good way to set yourself apart from the competition, as well. Calloway explains: Portals "demonstrate to your clients that you are on top of recent technological trends," and that you are committed to "your ethical obligations about handing sensitive material."

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