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A bit of historical context will set the stage:
Launched in 2003, Skype was one of the first mass market freely available forms of internet video conferencing. It took advantage of early developments in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology to allow users to communicate with each other using their microphones and webcams. Previously video conferencing had been prohibitively expensive for the general public and was largely only used by companies. The burgeoning popularity of broadband over the last few years has led to an increase in the use of a constantly improving VoIP and a surge in the popularity of Skype. Microsoft purchased Skype in 2011 for $8.5 billion, together with its database of some 600 million users.The Skype-call has become a routine entry in my calendar over the last year or so. In fact, it is an increasingly-rare week that does not have at least one Skype meeting booked with an out-of-town client.
The videoconference via Skype offers many obvious advantages over the traditional voice call. The opportunity for an eyeball-to-eyeball connection facilitates a much deeper rapport between lawyer and client, and in the process, helps build and strengthen the trust that is the necessary foundation of the lawyer-client relationship. This is especially important where distance or disability make face-to-face meetings rare or impractical.
Perhaps there is something to be said from the client’s perspective for the opportunity to speak to one’s lawyer from the familiar surroundings of one’s own home or office. A Skype call allows for professional communications in a context that is a bit more relaxed, convenient and comfortable for the client than a hectic law office. That lends itself to the better and more natural dialogue that typically emerges.
There is probably a simple explanation for the increasing frequency of the virtual meeting via Skype in my office – we made a concerted effort to offer this option to our out-of-town clients. Once they were made aware of the availability of virtual meetings, they embraced it, almost unanimously.
Connection glitches can still be an occasional, but generally manageable issue, however. It’s not perfect, but Skype is very good.
As is always the case with new technologies, the legal profession’s opt-in to virtual videoconferencing will occur somewhat later than the rest of the planet's. The corporate world has utilized videoconferencing to reduce travel costs and maximize efficiencies for two decades. In the same timeframe, telemedicine has revolutionized medical care in remote locations, using videoconferencing technologies to diagnose, deliver treatment and even perform complex surgeries. Even our family courts have been considering Skype’s place in parental custody and access applications since at least 2006.
Our clients are already on Skype, connecting regularly with friends and family worldwide. It makes good sense, therefore, that they are increasingly ready to meet virtually with their lawyers and other professionals, using a technology that is already familiar to them, from the comfort of their own surroundings.
Skype, and videoconferencing generally, is truly is the “next best thing to being there.” While it doesn’t replace direct human interaction, it comes close – much closer than the phone call does or can, I’d suggest. Adding to the convenience, free mobile versions of Skype allow lawyers and clients alike to connect with smartphones from anywhere.
Ultimately, it’s hard not to foresee the videoconference eventually replacing the typical office visit with most clients on an increasingly frequent basis. The opportunity to avoid parking costs, traffic snarls, scheduling difficulties and wait times might ultimately become too attractive an option for our marketplace to turn down.
So here is today’s tip: Offer your clients the option of video meetings with you via Skype. They are probably already using this technology, and may jump at the opportunity to meet virtually with you, too.
(Cross-posted at SlawTips)