Why lawyers hate the telephone

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 ~

16 Responses to “Why lawyers hate the telephone”

  1. Hi Julian

    I agree and faced the same problems in practice. I’d even pick the phone up to introduce myself when first instructed.

    I used to hate letters then next “we refer to your voicemail left for our mr old yesterday regarding the above”.

    Picking the phone up is like a big no no to people, and it’s simply because they aren’t clever enough! They’re worried about saying something that’ll be picked up on by their opponent.

    For important calls I used to jot down some notes before the call so I knew in my mind what I was going to say.

    But I must say don’t give away the secrets of mediation. If people knew they could just talk to each other instead it would be even harder for me!!

  2. Hi Julian

    I agree and faced the same problems in practice. I’d even pick the phone up to introduce myself when first instructed.

    I used to hate letters then next “we refer to your voicemail left for our mr old yesterday regarding the above”.

    Picking the phone up is like a big no no to people, and it’s simply because they aren’t clever enough! They’re worried about saying something that’ll be picked up on by their opponent.

    For important calls I used to jot down some notes before the call so I knew in my mind what I was going to say.

    But I must say don’t give away the secrets of mediation. If people knew they could just talk to each other instead it would be even harder for me!!

  3. Miriam Said says:

    I am currently engaging with two different legal firms.

    One of them has no hesitation about talking to me on the telephone and even sends me text updates if I haven’t contacted them in a little while.

    This firm has the WOW factor and I am now a huge fan of their work.

    The other firm have never spoken to me on the telephone, when I ring, I am fobbed off and they never answer with the firm’s name either, so I have to ask and double check that I am indeed calling the correct number.

    This firm is rapidly losing my patientce and confidence and I am seriously considering instructing another firm, that does have the WOW factor.

    I was actually trying to let them know about a new development that was quite important and urgent and got no response, so I am now doing the over kill with the e-mail route, to which they responded by sending out a letter.

    This seemed strange to me as it added an extra postage cost which wasn’t neccessary, a quick e-mail response whould have been much cheaper for the law firm and would have sufficed.

    Needless to say, I am not impressed and want to go to another firm as soon as I get the bill for work done up until now.

    Which is quite sad, because the potential billable hours from this one could be quite a chunky sum to the firm and they could possibly get some press coverage that they can presently only dream about, when the case is completed.

    So as you may have guessed, this is serious stuff and I’m not messing about, so why should I personally tolerate being messed about, when a telephone call could solve so many urgent and important problems.

    If a legal firm wishes me to follow up a telephone conversation with an e-mail of confirmation of what was discussed in the telephone call, then I am very happy to do so, but they will have to engage with me first and that is where many law firms are indeed failing their clients.

    So WOW me and I’ll stay, disappoint me and I’ll leave.

    Simples.

  4. Miriam Said says:

    I am currently engaging with two different legal firms.

    One of them has no hesitation about talking to me on the telephone and even sends me text updates if I haven’t contacted them in a little while.

    This firm has the WOW factor and I am now a huge fan of their work.

    The other firm have never spoken to me on the telephone, when I ring, I am fobbed off and they never answer with the firm’s name either, so I have to ask and double check that I am indeed calling the correct number.

    This firm is rapidly losing my patientce and confidence and I am seriously considering instructing another firm, that does have the WOW factor.

    I was actually trying to let them know about a new development that was quite important and urgent and got no response, so I am now doing the over kill with the e-mail route, to which they responded by sending out a letter.

    This seemed strange to me as it added an extra postage cost which wasn’t neccessary, a quick e-mail response whould have been much cheaper for the law firm and would have sufficed.

    Needless to say, I am not impressed and want to go to another firm as soon as I get the bill for work done up until now.

    Which is quite sad, because the potential billable hours from this one could be quite a chunky sum to the firm and they could possibly get some press coverage that they can presently only dream about, when the case is completed.

    So as you may have guessed, this is serious stuff and I’m not messing about, so why should I personally tolerate being messed about, when a telephone call could solve so many urgent and important problems.

    If a legal firm wishes me to follow up a telephone conversation with an e-mail of confirmation of what was discussed in the telephone call, then I am very happy to do so, but they will have to engage with me first and that is where many law firms are indeed failing their clients.

    So WOW me and I’ll stay, disappoint me and I’ll leave.

    Simples.

  5. Thanks Miriam. It is nice to see that the practice of viewing the phone as a distraction is alive and well.
    J,

  6. Thanks Miriam. It is nice to see that the practice of viewing the phone as a distraction is alive and well.
    J,

  7. If all calls were recorded as a matter of routine, so that there could (hopefully) no debate what was actually said, do you think that would ease the tension for lawyers in using the phone?
    Thanks for your comment.
    J,

  8. If all calls were recorded as a matter of routine, so that there could (hopefully) no debate what was actually said, do you think that would ease the tension for lawyers in using the phone?
    Thanks for your comment.
    J,

  9. I wonder, as I have said in my other reply, whether recording all calls would make a difference?
    Thanks for posting.
    J,

  10. I wonder, as I have said in my other reply, whether recording all calls would make a difference?
    Thanks for posting.
    J,

  11. Miriam Said says:

    For those not comfortable using the telephone…

    I am a life long stutterer/stammerer and I have worked in contact centres and talked to highly important and influential people on the telephone in other working/networking scenarios.

    I also have a Geordie accent and I am slightly deaf in both ears.

    If I can do it, so can you.

    I break barriers, I don’t make barriers.

    If I ever restrict myself then I restrict my learning and growth potential. Something I can never, ever do.

    Just look at the places I have been, the experiences I have had and seen and most of them from talking on the telephone.

    I am never engaged and always engaging.

    Make it so.

  12. Miriam Said says:

    For those not comfortable using the telephone…

    I am a life long stutterer/stammerer and I have worked in contact centres and talked to highly important and influential people on the telephone in other working/networking scenarios.

    I also have a Geordie accent and I am slightly deaf in both ears.

    If I can do it, so can you.

    I break barriers, I don’t make barriers.

    If I ever restrict myself then I restrict my learning and growth potential. Something I can never, ever do.

    Just look at the places I have been, the experiences I have had and seen and most of them from talking on the telephone.

    I am never engaged and always engaging.

    Make it so.

  13. Thanks Alice. I can see the problem but I believe if lawyers didn’t think they could be misrepresented and the recording system itself wasn’t going to become too cumbersome or costly then it may just enable much more sensible telephone dialogue to happen.

    J,

  14. Thanks Alice. I can see the problem but I believe if lawyers didn’t think they could be misrepresented and the recording system itself wasn’t going to become too cumbersome or costly then it may just enable much more sensible telephone dialogue to happen.

    J,

  15. Mike farrell says:

    Interesting piece, thanks. I certainly agree with the issue on the desire to record everything in writing, we all know particularly in litigation, having something in writing gives far more strength to an argument than a purported telephone call. I do however fully agree that this methodology is frustrating. I have personally experienced such problems where on occassion I have tried to contact a practice only to find that the phone either rings and rings and rings never to be answered, or it goes automatically to answerphone. One office telephone was known to not even make it through half a ring before cutting to a message saying that no one was available and that I couldnt leave a message. These werent just single phone calls, this was trying to get through at various times during the day, at the end of the day I wasnt calling dancing with the z-listers (or was I?)

    one other thought, I am wondering if there could also be another psychological level to this in that the sending of an email or letter is quite an anonymous method of communicating; it requires no emotional connection, no potential for argument, and a significantly reduced fear factor regarding the correspondent, all elements that could certainly come into play in communications between solicitors, solicotirs and clients / opponents etc. In a letter or email you can say what you want to say without question, conflict or fear, and if you wish also significantly delay proceedings much more than you could in a telephone call. It is much easier to fire off a contentious letter or email than it is to argue your case face to face or voice to voice as it would be, especially if you’re oponent has a bigger bark. Could this have any bearing on the reasoning?

  16. Mike farrell says:

    Interesting piece, thanks. I certainly agree with the issue on the desire to record everything in writing, we all know particularly in litigation, having something in writing gives far more strength to an argument than a purported telephone call. I do however fully agree that this methodology is frustrating. I have personally experienced such problems where on occassion I have tried to contact a practice only to find that the phone either rings and rings and rings never to be answered, or it goes automatically to answerphone. One office telephone was known to not even make it through half a ring before cutting to a message saying that no one was available and that I couldnt leave a message. These werent just single phone calls, this was trying to get through at various times during the day, at the end of the day I wasnt calling dancing with the z-listers (or was I?)

    one other thought, I am wondering if there could also be another psychological level to this in that the sending of an email or letter is quite an anonymous method of communicating; it requires no emotional connection, no potential for argument, and a significantly reduced fear factor regarding the correspondent, all elements that could certainly come into play in communications between solicitors, solicotirs and clients / opponents etc. In a letter or email you can say what you want to say without question, conflict or fear, and if you wish also significantly delay proceedings much more than you could in a telephone call. It is much easier to fire off a contentious letter or email than it is to argue your case face to face or voice to voice as it would be, especially if you’re oponent has a bigger bark. Could this have any bearing on the reasoning?

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