New York City had a problem. People weren’t showing up to court to address allegations of low-level offenses.

To punish this neglect, courts sent out arrest warrants. As a result, defendants fell deeper into the web of the criminal justice system, damaging their lives and bringing higher costs to the public.

But one team of scholars wanted to try something new. They asked: What if most people weren’t deliberately skipping court? What if this wasn’t a calculated decision to defy the justice system? What if they were just forgetting?

To test it out, they added a ‘nudge.’ Before each person’s court date in the study, they sent out a text message reminding them of the time and location of their hearing. They also redesigned the summons to be clearer.

When they compared the numbers with the control group, the results were stark. Over 3 years, they helped 30,000 people avoid arrest warrants. They estimate that because of their efforts, 20,000 people had their cases completely dismissed—simply because defendants remembered to show up to court.

The SMS nudge is an understated powerhouse. It’s helpful, non-invasive—and it’s everywhere. We’re growing accustomed to SMS reminders for dental cleanings, dog-grooming, and every other service imaginable. But most law offices still fail to help their clients out with a nudge.

Here are a few ways you can use nudges to improve your client base, reduce no-shows, and run a more profitable practice:

When to use a nudge:

  • Cut down on no-shows. Remind clients 1-3 days before appointments, depositions, and court dates.
  • Follow up on paperwork requests. To improve this process further, invest in tools to allow you to securely send documents by text for clients to give their electronic signature and text back.
  • Pursue potential clients and leads. After someone reaches out to your firm, connect with them in the hours and days that follow to show them you’re ready to follow-through on their legal needs.
  • Send clients invoices and remind them of upcoming or overdue payments.
  • Follow up with matters you’ve referred out to trusted colleagues. After a referred case is retained, send a gentle reminder about applicable referral fees.
  • Improve your online ratings by asking for a review and feedback when a matter closes.

How to get started?

Invest in automation software. For efficiency, you can’t beat automation. Services like Lead Docket are designed to automate follow-up for lawyers, improving case loads and revenues. While you and your team are focused on legal work, the software takes care of the nudges.

For those who can’t yet use an automation service, the process is more difficult. But it will still bring benefits. Whether you automate or not, you’ll need to follow a few more steps:

Create a flowchart: Map out the process and create a standard schedule. As you map out your process, remember not to overdo it. Once an electrician sent me a deluge of text messages demanding a 5-star review from me. I grew so annoyed in the following days that I gave a bad review.

It’s fine to send a reminder a week before an appointment and then a day before. Or send more than one request for follow-up. When you’re pursuing a new case, you can send nudges more frequently. But build in an appropriate amount of time between nudges and make it easy to opt out of them.

Draft your templates: Create concise templates that can be personalized for each nudge. The messages you send will ultimately depend on the details of your practice area and your clients’ expected level of formality. But here are 7 aspects to consider as you’re drafting templates:

  1. Make it easy to opt out. Most people appreciate text reminders, but anyone who doesn’t should be able to see exactly how to stop receiving them. One easy way to do this is to end your messages with something like “text STOP to unsubscribe.”
  2. Be transparent. Don’t hide costs or give a false sense that there aren’t any other options for your client or potential client.
  3. Maintain confidentiality. Most people allow text messages to pop up as a notification on their phone, where it’s sometimes visible to others. Never betray attorney-client privilege in a text message.
    Lawyers who work in sensitive areas like divorce and labor disputes should check with their clients first before sending out text messages. If an unsuspecting spouse or boss sees your appointment reminder text, it could create difficulties for your client.
  4. Include only one call to action. Each nudge should have one clear purpose. Don’t let other logistical needs piggyback onto it. That makes the text more confusing for clients and diverts their attention to secondary things.
    If you’re confirming their appointment, for instance, don’t tack on an explanation of where to park or what to bring with them. Once the recipient confirms they’re coming, you can send an additional message with more info, or use another forum, such as email or a phone call if that makes sense.
    If the conversation ever dives into complex matters, move it to a different forum. Schedule a phone call or some other direct contact.
  5. Personalize it. People respond better when your text includes their name and other relevant details.
  6. Keep an upbeat tone. If the stakes are high, it may be tempting to warn clients about what awful thing could happen if they fail to show up or comply. But typically a friendly and positive tone gets a better response.
  7. And, obviously, be professional. Erase the emojis. Watch the exclamation points. Avoid all-caps.

Finally, evaluate and revise: Your nudge strategy should be something you update regularly. Are you still getting too many day-of cancellations? Maybe try sending the reminder two days ahead instead.

Review each area where inefficiencies creep in and test out different nudge techniques to find a fix. You might be surprised by just how far a little nudge can go.