This week’s column was initially going to be about setting fees, but then two lawyers pissed me off so I’m now writing about why technology sucks and needs to be controlled like a screaming 2-year-old on an airplane.
I took Friday off to chaperone a field trip with one of my kids to the Everglades. I promise if I ever get a Pinterest account I’ll post all the pictures of the alligators. On Thursday, I did everything but wear a shirt that said, “I WILL NOT BE IN THE OFFICE OR AVAILABLE FRIDAY.” I also emailed some annoying people that haven’t been out of their office, ever.
That day, one lawyer I emailed responded something to the effect of, “I know you’re going to be out tomorrow but,” and then asked me to do some work on our matter. The other lawyer called Friday morning, was told I was out and said, “Can you have him call me to discuss a case even though he’s out?”
Yeah, we all have smart phones, we’re all getting email in real time, and regardless of what we’re doing, the other side can’t comprehend that we are either really not available, or just don’t want to be available. Maybe we’re looking at alligators with our kids while our phone is back on the bus.
Being out of the office (and for those that don’t have an office, “being out of the office” is a concept, not a physical geographical location issue) is something lawyers need to do to avoid hating the practice of law, but it is becoming more and more looked down upon….
In 2012, there is no such thing as “unavailable.” Being “unavailable” is a sign of weakness, and a good way for Big Law associates to get fired and then be permanently “unavailable.” But I’m weird that way — I take a day or an afternoon here and there to do odd things like spend time with my family or friends and remind myself why I’m lucky to be a lawyer practicing law instead of a paper-pushing drone.
Your concern is that you may miss the opportunity for a new client, or that something will explode and you need to be available 24/7 to fix it, especially if you’re a solo.
The internet is full of articles written by people full of crap that are promoting legal tech, as well as those giving us tips on controlling tech. I can only tell you what works for me.
1. I never respond to an email immediately unless it requires an immediate response. If you respond to everything immediately, you are only training people to think that you respond immediately. When they send an email at 8:30 a.m. and by 8:42 you haven’t responded, they will stalk you. Back off, respond within 12 hours.
2. Do not let people contact you the way they want. You know those clients or others that have your cell and start texting everything? End that crap now (unless you love practicing law by texting.) Tell people your preferred method of communication (call the office, email me, call my cell, whatever) When people disregard that, ignore them.
3. Be OK with missing a new case. If your goal is to really convince the public that there is, in fact, a 24/7 lawyer, skip this advice. If you want to have a life, understand that you cannot be obsessed with every new case or client. If you haven’t learned yet that good clients will wait to hire good lawyers, learn it now.
4. If you’re going to be unavailable for a few days or you just can’t bear being unavailable at all and have no staff — make a friend. Have your calls forwarded to your new friend. I did that when I started out, and I returned the favor when my friend went on vacation or was out for a day or so. As for email –- I used to be anti-auto-reply. I’ve changed my thoughts on that. I don’t use one, but appreciate when I see one that says, “if this is about a legal matter, please (call, text, etc…)”
Most importantly, if you’re a lawyer and another lawyer says they’re “unavailable,” show some damn respect and go work on something else. The sun will rise tomorrow. And don’t start with the “what about those lawyers that are always ‘unavailable.’” I’m not talking about those idiots.
Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.