This article was originally posted in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin on September 10, 2012 PUBLISHER: MICHAEL B. KRAMER | EDITOR: OLIVIA CLARKE
Like most days, today has been busy for me. Despite having no court calls or appointments on my schedule, I have been at my office all day communicating with my paralegal, communicating with my office manager, communicating with my clients, communicating with opposing lawyers and communicating with insurance adjusters. Though my interactions with others have been nonstop, the silence has been deafening. I blame technology.
I remember a day when the telephone lines all lit up, when clients lined up in the reception area and lawyers congregated in each other’s offices. But since I started practicing personal injury law in 1995, things have gotten very quiet.
I’m not sure I like it.
When I think of words to describe lawyers, (not the naughty ones), “communicator” jumps to the front of my mind. After all, lawyers exist, at least in part, to communicate the intentions of those in need of legal assistance.
However, with advances in technology, namely the ability to send messages electronically, I don’t think “communicator” will be associated with those in my profession anymore. People today use email and texting more than traditional methods of communicating…, such as talking. Remember face-to-face meetings? Remember hand written thank you notes?
We often hear that our youth no longer know how to interact with others because of advances in technology. Not long ago, my 12-year-old daughter had a friend over and they were texting. Even though they were physically spending time together, they were elsewhere mentally. I called out, “Why don’t you enjoy your time together instead of texting others?” They replied, “But we’re texting each other.” This is a true story and funny when it’s about 12-year-olds, but what about people in the legal profession? When I walk through the Courthouse halls, I see more people using their wireless handhelds than engaging in conversation. When I go to law offices, I can hear a pin drop.
It seems that people don’t pick up the phone and call anymore, not when they can shoot out a quick email or text. Even more rarely do opposing lawyers meet face to face to discuss a case, unless it’s in a formal setting such as a pre-trial or mediation. Recently a well-known, highly respected defense lawyer called me and invited me to his office to discuss resolving a serious injury case we were working on against each other. “When?” I asked. He replied, “How about now?” I was surprised by the invitation, but accepted. We sat in his office, discussed life, the practice of law and eventually the case. We laughed. We argued. We advocated. We even swore at each other a bit. Hours later, we got the case resolved. After that meeting I know why he is so well regarded. He knows how to communicate; really communicate. I’m certain we wouldn’t have accomplished what we did that day in a chain of emails or texts.
Voice modulation, facial expressions, and body gestures are an important form of communication in the legal profession and are getting lost in technology. Reading emails and texts without knowing the feelings behind them means emotions may be disregarded. If people read too much “tone” into what was meant to be a friendly message, the meaning can be misconstrued, opening an unnecessary can of worms.
Some would argue that technology brings people together; without email and texting, it would be difficult to be in touch with so many people and so frequently. “I don’t have the time to be on the phone all day or to meet people face to face,” some say. However, even though we may be in contact with more people, even though we may be in contact with some people more frequently than we would be without technology, it is my opinion that we are drifting apart.
For the lawyers who over-use technology, there is a less intellectual exchange of opinions and ideas. If we sit in front of our computers and our wireless handhelds all day, how will we relate to opposing counsel? How will we relate to clients? How will we relate to friends, family members and the public in general?
As a lawyer and a business owner, I recognize that sending messages electronically is a wonderful convenience. But I also believe it shouldn’t take the place of personal interaction. I know I must take the time to reach out in person and encourage others at my firm to do the same. I believe that whenever possible, I should make personal phone calls to clients. I believe in face to face meetings as well. If my clients, my colleagues, my contacts in general, hear my voice, they are more likely to see I care, because I really do.