It was one of my biggest frustrations of professional practice, the fact that so few lawyers were willing or capable of using the telephone.
I don’t mean they were physically incapable. No, they made a (conscious) decision to defer from calling when another prolix letter or email could be sent; or pick the damn thing up when I called.
I have lost count of the number of times I could sense the palpable unease in having to converse with their opposite number. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few were paranoid enough to believe that I was recording the call!
And there were those who had a pat response prepared: “I am not prepared to discuss the matter over the telephone.” No but you are quite happy to bombard me with letter after letter… which is achieving precisely … nothing.
Perhaps it was the possibility of being misrepresented, missing a trick or being legged over that caused so many to avoid the medium but it only served to reinforce my belief that for fear of something so basic, they were quite happy to prolong their client’s involvement in the case.
It may well be that litigation engenders such mistrust but I don’t accept that it runs that deep. In fact, my experience is that the bigger and more valuable the case, the easier it was to deal with my opposite number on the phone.
I still remember settling my biggest case over the telephone. The partner on the other side from well known London firm was boarding a plane to go on Holiday (on a Saturday) and I was working from home. In the space of a few hours with a bit of the usual toing and froing we had settled the case. Compare this with some of the lower value cases. The firms concerned battled it out as if it were their only case. The cost/benefit hardly seemed to come into the equation. And as for using the phone, one firm that shall remain nameless (shame on you) had a policy of never speaking on the phone. You were constrained to using the voicemail facility.
This reluctance to engage was never quite so prevalent in the non-contentious work that I did but, save in a few cases, I always sensed a certain level of unease.
A lot has been written about the training regime and CPD for lawyers but I do wish the telephone could form a separate area of expertise. I am quite serious about this. The lack of confidence pervades not just the progress and settlement of cases but it also extends to client engagement. So few lawyers are prepared to pick up the telephone and would much prefer to rely on a sterile email or a verbose letter.
Now I have no problem with either medium but I just wonder how much more could be achieved if they had had the confidence to use the phone.
Having come from a sales background I cannot conceive of defaulting to another letter or email. Yes there are good reasons sometime to nail things in writing but not for every case.
When it comes to settlement, very often a simple telephone call is all that is needed to really get to the heart of the issue. This is no different to mediation.
My plea is a simple one. View the phone as friendly and not something to trip you up. Next time you get a call from your opposite number relish it and see it as a brilliant opportunity to achieve something meaningful.
~ JS ~