Center For Practice Management, Email Management, Productivity

Are There Alternatives to Email?

Are you overwhelmed with the back and forth of email, including managing it (filtering, storing, searching)? While we may not be getting rid of email any time soon, there are other tools that can reduce your reliance on email for electronic communications and help reduce the number of emails you send and receive.

Alternatives for Communicating with Your Internal Team

MS Teams

If your firm subscribes to Microsoft 365 for Business (Basic, Business Standard, Business Premium, and most of the enterprise/education/government versions) your subscription includes Teams. Teams offers video conferencing, chat, workspaces with channels.  You can also incorporate file libraries or create them, other MS apps like Tasks by Planner, and 3rd party apps like Clio into workspaces.

Chat in Teams lets you message an individual, multiple people as a group or the entire firm. Your message can be formatted with Styles, bullets, numbered lists, tables, hyperlinks and more. You can mark the message as standard, important, or urgent (which notifies the recipients every 2 minutes for 20 minutes). You can attach documents, insert loop components for inline chats, create approval requests, add a task and more – all from within the chat. In the approval request you can even request a signature with Adobe Sign if you have a subscription.

If you get an email from a client and want to share it to your internal Team as a chat, click on the “Share to Teams” in MS Outlook and choose the group, workspace channel or person you want to send it to. You can check the box to include attachments.

If you share a file through chat a new tab will appear and all files will show up there in the chat, as well as attached to the message.

For each chat message you can “react” with an emoji, pin it to the top, share to MS Outlook, and more. To get notifications about chat messages install Teams on your phone or desktop. If someone @mentions you it will automatically send an email (which you can delete!). Each user can to into her settings and customize notifications.

If you participate in a Teams meeting the chat logs are automatically shared in Chat. You can initiate a Teams video conference or audio call directly from within chat. Teams has a “presence” feature so that you can see if the person you want to chat or contact for real time communication is available, based on her Outlook calendar.


If you do not have a MS 365 subscription or just don’t like Teams, an alternative is Slack. Like Teams you can chat with groups or individuals. You can create channels with specific people in them, or topical channels for everyone in the Slack workspace. While Slack does have a free version you can try out with rich functionality, the Pro ($6.67 per user/per month) or Business+ ($12.50 per user/per month) have more bells and whistles for video calls, search, and storage. You can integrate Slack with MS 365, Google Workspace and many other tools.

Slack has an install for Windows and Mac, you can use it through the browser, or download the app for your smartphone. When you send a message you can send files by uploading from your computer or from recent files sent through Slack.

One thing that differs from Teams chat is that Slack has a Threaded discussion feature. When you respond to a message you can “reply in thread”. This is useful for a multi-user discussion. However, often participants forget to create threads and the conversations can be a little difficult to follow.

Benefits of Slack and Teams for Internal Communication

In addition to integrations with tools you already have, chat apps like Slack and Teams remove/reduce the need for end users to manage an inbox. Since the conversations are already categorized by channel (or user) and fully searchable you spend no time organizing messages. Using Teams or Slack for internal communication reduces the number of emails you have and the number of emails you must manage. Teams and Slack also allow for more brainstorming, less formal message structure, opportunities to create a positive workplace culture with polling, create “watercooler” channels, send all staff informational messages, faster responses.

Task Assignments

Many lawyers use email to assign tasks to their teams. Email is a terrible task management tool. You may have task management tools, as well as workflows and checklists in your practice management application. If not there are plethora of project management tools to choose from including those like Planner and To Do you already have in the MS 365 subscription. Project management and task management tools let you assign a task, with a deadline and track the progress – all without email!

Email Newsletters in a Feed Reader

How many email newsletters have you subscribed to and then either wrote a rule or created a filter, so you never actually read them or just delete them after they sit in your inbox for a week. Or move them to a folder. If this describes you consider using a tool like Inoreader to subscribe to email newsletters. You can see them all in one place, they won’t sit unread taking up space in your inbox or folders, and you can search through them and other subscriptions PLUS social media all in one place. To get this functionality you will need to pay for the Pro plan at $5.83 per month, but there is much more to this feed reader to get the return on investment.

Alternatives for Communicating with People Outside the Firm

Slack or Teams

Whether you are working on a professional development project, working with outside counsel, handling litigation for corporate counsel, communicate closely with a few corporate clients or for other scenarios you can also use Slack or Teams instead of email. These tools work best for longer term projects or matters. The ability to chat, share files, initiate a quick call and other collaboration features can be a great alternative to email communication.

Client Portals

Many of the SaaaS (web-based) practice management applications like Clio, MyCase, PracticePanther, and many more offer secure communications and text messaging with clients. Through a client portal, clients can login and access files, send files, fill out forms, see upcoming deadlines and tasks, pay bills and send and receive secure communications with their attorney. Attorneys do not have to manage emails or be concerned about security, mis-directed email, or spoofed email. Jim Calloway makes some great arguments for client portals beyond the secure communications. Explore whether your current practice management application has a client portal capability that you can leverage. If it doesn’t and you aren’t interested in moving to a different PMS there are stand-alone portals to choose from on the market.


If your inbox is burgeoning, if you are tired of never reaching inbox zero, if managing all those emails is simply taking up more time than it should then think about tools to reduce the number of emails you send and receive. It is highly unlikely that you will entirely stop emailing, but you can use alternatives that do some of the management for you. Of course, don’t discount phone calls and video conferencing, especially if you can control the when and where.