As technology has evolved over the last few decades, we have an increasing choice for how we communicate: writing a letter and having it delivered, leaving voice mail messages (intentionally, by calling at off hours), e-mailing a message, transmiting a fax, sending an instant message, or posting information to an extranet. The mode of communication is not just about how information is transmitted. The mode has many other implications. Two examples help illustrate this point.

First, consider e-mail. We take it for granted now of course. But around 1994 I co-wrote (and had published by American Lawyer Media) an article extolling the virtues of using e-mail to communicate. At that time, many lawyers objected to e-mail and thought it would never amount to anything. Granted, cross-organization e-mail required complicated “gateway” connections at the time (this was pre-Internet for general commercial purposes). Among the benefits I recall pointing out were:
– communicating asynchronously (meaning the recipient did not have to be “there” to receive the message),
– copying multiple parties,
– keeping a written record (a sword that clearly cuts two ways in litigation),
– attaching files, and
– crystallizing one’s thoughts for the benefit of the recipient (in contrast, for example, to the rambling voice mail message).
I contrasted e-mail to voice mail, which offered some of these benefits, but burdened the recipient with often rambling thoughts and the need to take notes.

Second, a friend told me a story this week about PowerPoint. She was asked by colleagues to write a memo explaining a particular issue. As she started writing, she realized that the memo would end up being long and detailed. Moreover, she realized that no matter how she argued the points, some readers would not get it and others would disagree. And she found it was taking way too much time to write. So instead of going down that path, she decided to respond to the request by “writing” a PowerPoint presentation and e-mailing it. This allowed her to communicate the main points and to provide some context and support. She reasoned that this would suffice for most of her audience and for those who did not believe the points, they would not be convinced by a memo version and would call her anyway.

This anecdote crystallized the idea for me that communication is deeply affected not just by the transmission method (e.g., e-mail versus voice) but also by the presentation of content (e.g., written memo, e-mail text, PowerPoint, or Visio diagrams). For better or worse, many business people are now accustomed to PowerPoint presentations and find memos longer than one page tedious. Lawyers who want to provide outstanding service to clients should consider carefully both how they transmit and how they present information. While there is no right or wrong answer, different choices are appropriate for different circumstances. Lawyers should be attuned to the mode and presentation format by which their clients would like to receive different types of information.