Videoconferencing Versus In-Person Meetings
By Bobbie K. Ross – January 9, 2012
The next time your boss schedules you to attend an unexpected meeting at the last minute, don’t panic. Videoconferencing permits you to simply turn on your computer and have the meeting through a webcam. In addition to saving the client the costly expenses of airline travel and hotel stays, it also provides a more personal means of communication than merely exchanging emails.
Is It Still Necessary to Meet in Person?
With all of the recent advances in technology, some lawyers and law firms might find themselves asking whether it is still necessary to meet in person. It depends. Before making this choice, the attorney should make several considerations.
First, both the clients and attorneys may feel more comfortable and “in their element” when meeting face-to-face. If you or your client are the type of person that judges a man by his handshake, or just feels more comfortable talking to others and explaining yourself in person, then videoconferencing may not be for you. Additionally, meeting in person is preferable for an initial client meeting to establish trust and a long-term client relationship.
Another consideration is the necessity of exchanging original documents, non-documentary evidence, and obtaining original signatures. Though the ability to send documents through email seems to alleviate this concern, often times your clients may not have the ability to scan documents or otherwise send large quantities of data. Additionally, sometimes originals are required. In cases involving hard evidence, such as products liability or auto collisions, pictures rarely provide the same benefits of an in-person inspection.
Some clients may also not have the hardware, bandwidth, or facilities for videoconferencing. An attorney should speak with his or her client about the software and hardware available, including speakers, adequate bandwidth, and a capable web-camera. The facilities in which the videoconferencing is to take place should be a private setting to allow for both you and your client to hear your communications while also maintaining confidentiality.
You should consider the circumstances of each case and client and then determine whether it is still necessary to meet in person.
Effect of Videoconferencing on the Attorney-Client Relationship
Depending on the circumstances of the meeting or hearing calling for the videoconference, confidentiality issues may arise. For example, if it becomes necessary to confer with your client, but you and the client are in different locations for the videoconference, it won’t be possible to step outside and have a chat in the hallway the way it would if you were both in the same room.
Lawyers should establish in advance what will happen in the event such a situation arises. Will you and the client both mute your microphones, turn off your video feeds, and call each other on your cell phones? Will you send each other separate instant messages away from the main chat? How to ensure that the attorney-client privilege stays intact is one issue that should be carefully considered in advance of all videoconferences.
An attorney should also consider the ethical implications of videoconferencing. The attorney needs to ensure that the connection and videoconference are secure, or ensure the software used has these security features. It is also important to make sure the client is aware that a third party should not be able to overhear the conference, so as to provide grounds for an attorney-client communication privilege to be waived. Finally, it is always a good idea to include the possibility of communications and meetings by videoconference in your engagement agreement with the client. This will ensure your client understands the benefits, limits, and costs of this technology.
Costs and Benefits to the Client and Attorney
There are a number of software programs that can be used for videoconferencing such as Skype, iChat, Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro, GoToMeeting, and WebEx. These programs can allow attorneys appear at depositions, mediations, and other meetings all without having to leave their office. These programs range in price, but whatever software you choose, it is important to ensure your videoconferencing system (including hardware as well) has good sound and picture, as well as reliable Internet and/or reception. Losing the signal or having your Internet go out in the middle of a videoconference is unlikely to impress your client or anyone else.
Even when buying top-notch software and hardware for a videoconferencing setup, the monetary benefits of attending meetings via videoconference compared with meeting in person are clear: reduced expenses for hotel, gas, food, and the like; little to no travel time; and lack of jet lag. The savings on these items—especially future savings—more than outweigh the cost of the software and hardware associated with establishing a videoconference arrangement.
It is important to remember, however, that all benefits are not monetary. Taking the time to meet your client in person shows him or her that you care enough to make the effort to take the time out of your busy schedule and make the trek wherever the destination may be. And that might mean more to some clients than can be expressed in words (like how taking the time to write a note or letter by hand is more meaningful than just shooting off yet another email).
So, before you cancel your plane tickets, make sure you give the videoconferencing option a thorough analysis and decide whether that in-person meeting will actually be worth it.
Keywords: videoconferencing, video-conferencing, young lawyer, clients, ethical duties, ethics, meetings, technology
Bobbie K. Ross is with Michel & Associates, P.C. in Long Beach, California.