Text messaging with your clients is a practice that requires thoughtful consideration. For your reference, OSB Formal Ethics Opinion No. 2017-192 and a recent article by OSB General Counsel Amber Hollister address your ethical duties regarding saving text messages. If you find yourself in a situation in which you want or need to save text messages (also known as “SMS” or “Short Message Service”) from your phone, you have many options available depending on the type and version of phone, the carrier, the text messaging application, and the number of texts you are trying to save. Some options are discussed here, but there is no “one size fits all” solution. You will need to do your own research to find the option that fits your needs.
Screen Capture. A “screen capture” is a photograph of your device’s screen. This is more suited for saving a small number of text messages, as it only allows for saving the messages that fit in the screen. Not all devices allow for a screen capture, and some that allow screen capture may not allow you to save additional information about the message, such as the date and time stamp. Any device that offers this feature should have specific steps to follow. A “how to” search on the Internet may help you determine whether your device offers this feature, and if it does, it is likely that you will also be able to find sites that offer step-by-step instructions.
Download an App to Your Computer. You can download an application to your computer that allows you to save text messages from your phone. You then connect the phone to your computer and export text messages using the application. If you do this, be careful that you do not export unwanted data from your phone onto your computer.
- iPhone. Options include PhoneView (Mac only), CopyTrans (PC only), or iExplorer (Mac and PC).
- Android. Options include SMS Backup+, My Backup Pro, SMS Backup & Restore, and Super Backup & Restore.
Download a Standalone Messaging App to Your Phone. Many people gravitate toward using the default text messaging application on their phone. Yet there are many third-party or “standalone” text messaging applications available. These applications may also provide a higher level of security, such as automatic end-to-end encryption of messages. Some of these applications include a backup service or allow you to sync your cell phone to your computer. An Internet search may help you find an application that fits your needs.
For additional information regarding saving text messages from your phone, refer to our practice aid located at http://www.osbplf.org/ > Practice Management > Forms > Saving Text Messages. The practice aid references additional options, such as individual forwarding of text messages by email, cell phone backup systems, SIM card readers, or cell phone monitoring software.
Text Messaging Without Using Your Cell Phone
There are also ways to send text messages without using your cell phone, such as through your email or an existing landline.
Email-to-SMS Gateway. An SMS gateway allows you to send a text message to a cell phone from your email address rather than your cell phone number. My colleague, PLF Practice Management Advisor Hong Dao, provided a detailed explanation in her recent blog post. For additional information about saving emails to client files, see our practice aid located at http://www.osbplf.org/ > Practice Management > Forms > Documenting Email as Part of the Client File.
Landline or VoIP Text Messaging. You can also download an application to your computer that sends text messages through a non-cell phone number, such as a landline or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), which allows for phone communications through the internet. Options include ZipWhip and Google Voice.
With the advent and increased use of technology in the practice of law, we must adapt our security procedures accordingly to assure that we maintain the confidentiality of client information. Before implementing any of the above-mentioned suggestions, refer to OSB Formal Ethics Opinion No. 2011-188 and OSB Formal Ethics Opinion No. 2016-191, which discuss a lawyer’s duties regarding electronic client files and the need to take reasonable steps to ensure that any third-party vendor will reliably secure client data and keep information confidential.