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Your call is very important to us—please hold

Among the more frustrating aspects of practicing law for a busy lawyer may be excessive accessibility. For the last 10 years or so, I have instructed those who answer the phone that they need not ask who is calling. I began that practice because I rarely refuse to take a call. If a member of my staff has not asked who is calling, then checks my office to find I am not at my desk and reports same to caller, the caller isn’t left with the erroneous impression that I am dodging his or her call. Consequently, if I am at my desk or can be seen by my staff – and I am not in a meeting or on the phone – I am available, and I can take the call.

Constant accessibility is a challenge to productivity. As welcome as calls are to any business, calls in rapid succession do interrupt work flow. We are in a service profession, and the provision of services does require work.

Accessibility is amplified by modern technology. Depending on the decisions you’ve made, your staff and clients can reach you by phone at your desk; cell phone; voicemail at your desk and on your cell phone; text message; email at your desk and on your cell phone; fax; mail; and walking-in (with or without an appointment).

In the midst of a project with a deadline, distractions can prove to be difficult. Yet what I appreciate of other lawyers almost as much as their civility is their accessibility. If I pick up the phone or send an email, generally I have a need to converse with the party on the other end of such communication. When my attempts to make contact succeed, work flow and productivity increase, and that person, on the other end of the line, has in some small way made my life easier.

How many of you have been on hold with a business and a recorded voice repeatedly reminds you how important your call is to them? If you are like me, at some point you think (or perhaps say out loud), “If my call is so important, perhaps you should answer it.” We all have demands, and most of us have schedules much more hectic than we could’ve ever imagined when we began practicing law, but when we do what we can to touch base or have our staff schedule a phone call if the “phone tag” has gone on longer than makes rational sense, we are returning the favor that many others have done for us. We are helping someone out, if just a little.

Some eight to 10 years ago, I had difficulty reaching opposing counsel. It was a bit extreme. For weeks upon weeks, the attorney was inaccessible. Emails, letters and phone calls went substantially unreturned. The matter and the attorney were two counties away, and the issue at hand could not be dealt with short of a trial unless the lines of communication were opened. I drove to the county seat and appeared at the attorney’s office. Upon being informed that the attorney was in court, I walked to the courthouse. I had never met this attorney, so I asked around. I located opposing counsel in an upper floor hallway and introduced myself. We resolved that attorney’s problem and mine after a conversation that lasted no more than 10 minutes.

While the experience was frustrating, that imbedded memory increases the value I have for those who are accessible. It is a challenge, no question. There are times that my schedule makes reaching me nearly impossible, even with technology. But when my emails, voicemails and letters start to backlog, I often recall the time I had to drive two counties over to track down opposing counsel, and I dive in, returning calls, emails and letters.

Professional Conduct Rule 1.4 provides that an attorney keep a client reasonably informed about the status of the matter [1.4 (a)(3)] and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information [1.4 (a)(4)]. The comment to PCR 1.4 (a)(4) speaks in terms of the duty owed to clients.

Reasonable communication with opposing counsel may well be a courtesy under our Rules of Professional Conduct, but I for one appreciate it. For all of you burdened with a long list of emails, voicemails and letters, dive in and know that somebody on the other end will be glad you did.