Legal Conversations: How To Know When In-Person, Phone or Email Responses Are Appropriate

Communication has never been simple. Think about those difficult relationship conversations or heated workplace debates. But, in today’s modern world, communication problems are exacerbated by technology.

Templates for thank-you notes and get-well-soon cards used to be the source of discussion. Now, it’s hard to know when to pick up the phone or a pen.

Worse yet, it’s nearly impossible to derive tone from an email. And, efficacy comes into play. Especially within law firms—do I call my colleague or email him? How much will I have to charge the client for a phone call when just a quick email will suffice?

It’s hard to know when replying to a client, colleague, or superior, whether am in-person conversation, phone call, or email correspondence is enough.

Here’s a quick guide for legal conversation that hopefully clears up any conversational etiquette problems for the modern professional.

1. In-person conversations

Nobody wants to bother the boss. But, sometimes it’s important to put in face time. For important conversations—urgent casework issues, problems with coworkers, quitting, or promotion requests—an in-person conversation is a must.

It can also be helpful to pop-in a supervisor’s office if you haven’t seen them in awhile. Although there are some benefits to remaining invisible at work, it’s also a sure-fire way to stay invisible during year-end bonus allocations or promotion opportunities.

However, don’t be an annoying brown-nose. Also, don’t pester superiors with minor issues (like you need a new office chair). A quick “I got your email, the answer is yes,” merits an in-person interaction; a long-winded (and likewise costly) conversation detailing your every move for the week does not.

2. Phone call

First, to be clear, unless you are friends outside work (you have nicknames for each other) or operate in a small company, always introduce yourself with your full name. This clears up any confusion and also establishes boundaries for the phone conversation—it’s work related, professional, and brief.

Second, these days workplace etiquette regarding phone calls is complicated. Many people prefer in-person visits—they’re more personal—and others choose the efficiency of email. Phone calls lie in the gray area in-between.

So, conduct phone calls wisely. Phone calls can be useful between colleagues in offices in different geographical locations. Phone calls are a friendly way to contact clients.

Phone calls (or, especially, in-person meetings) are also a great way to keep conversations private. Beware of creating a paper-trail from confidential or sensitive statements. Or, you may, one day, have to pay the piper, like DLA Piper.

Within the same office, phone calls are useful to schedule a time for in-person meetings (to avoid back-and-forth email chains or the always awkward “just stopping by to ask when I can stop by…”). Be aware of the norms and routines of your particular office. For some, calling a colleague in the next room is considered time-conscious and productive. For others, it’s just plain lazy.

3. Email correspondence

Finally, email is the primary method of communication these days. It’s quick, immediate, and sensitive to other people’s time and work priorities.

However, be sure you follow proper email etiquette: don’t put the body of your emai; in the subject line ; practice high-tech politeness; stop calling every email and task “urgent”; and don’t be so efficient with your words (and abbreviations) that all meaning is lost.

These days, you usually can’t go wrong with e-mail.

At the same time, don’t forget the power of handwritten letters. Special occasions, thank-you notes, and anything important is worth the wait.



What’s the most difficult conversation to have with employees? Communicating Compensation. So, use C4CM’s essential guide to facilitate the conversation. Communicating Compensation to Employees will provide your firm with a powerful resource that gives you clear communication guidelines to manage difficult conversations and improve existing systems.


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