Phone calls are out, e-mails are in. At least, that’s what one business writer at Forbes would have you believe in his article, “10 Reasons Phone Calls Are A Waste of Time.”
Now, in some professions–technology, medicine, or education–perhaps this may be the new way of the world. In law, however, it’s the opposite. In many ways e-mails are ruining the good practice of law. Using the article’s same 10 reasons, here is why:
1. They demand immediate responses (which aren’t always the best responses).
This is pretty self-exlanatory. Are you a patent lawyer filing an appeal for a patent? Then you pick up a phone to call the patent examiner for advice. An e-mail will certainly get you nowhere.
Lawyers are looking for immediate responses in their deadline-driven work product.
2. You can’t go back and review phone calls later.
“Email, on the other hand, has the distinct advantage of being permanent, archivable and searchable, and allows prior conversations to be referenced and reviewed for accuracy or to refresh your memory,” writes Jayson DeMers for Forbes.
Great! Lawyers deal with confidential and private information. All the better not to leave a paper trail of e-mails.
Speak to your law firm manager about your firm’s policies regarding e-mail security before sending over any client files via cyberspace.
3. They’re an awkward dance of silence and interruptions.
It’s true that phone calls can get messy. Who is leading the call? What is the call about? If you must write an e-mail, answer these simple questions and send them about an hour before your phone call. That way there’s no confusion and less of chance for constant interruptions.
4. They cause existential overhead.
“Existential overhead is the mental cost in distraction and stress of uncompleted tasks. Unfinished work (or in this case, looming scheduled phone calls) can hang over your head, whether consciously or not. According to Jim Benson, genius behind the concept of existential overhead, looming tasks are never really “out of sight, out of mind”: ‘When you have a workload, you are always thinking about the individual elements of that workload. In the back of your mind, you know what you haven’t done,” (via Forbes).
So that means a phone call on Tuesday may (or may not) hang over your head on Wednesday. However, for lawyers, e-mails can also pile up. So 10 e-mails received on Monday become 20 by Tuesday. So, instead of scheduling a phone call, you now have a dozen or more e-mails that take an hour to respond to instead of ten minutes over the phone.
5. They kill productivity and work flow.
“According to research cited by The Wall Street Journal, frequent interruptions can have dire physical consequences among office workers, including 9% higher rates of exhaustion, and a 4% increase in migraines and backaches,” writes DeMers for Forbes.
“Think there’s no harm in just quickly answering a call? According to a study conducted by researchers atMichigan State University, workers participating in a series of tasks who experienced a 2.8 second interruption made twice as many errors following the interruption.”
How many times do you check your phone for new e-mails? E-mail is far more disruptive than phone calls. They’re more frequent and seeminly “quick” to respond to. It’s just one click. Unfortunately, after writing five to six e-mails, you will soon realize you’ve lost an entire billable hour to unnecessary correspondance.
6. They necessitate small talk, the biggest time waster known to man.
Part of your job as a law firm professional is to speak to clients or potential clients. Phone calls are personal. Chatting about a person’s kids, their business, and other minutiae is helpful in generating a rapport and positive client reviews or referrals for the future. People love to chat on the phone, that’s true. And 30 minutes of conversation that could have taken 30 seconds of e-mail may–in the end–lead to 30 years of loyal business.
E-mail is lazy. When you don’t want to research the answer yourself, it’s easy to compose a 1-line e-mail. Imagine how many phone calls you’d have to make if each e-mail was equivalent to one phone call… and then, reconsider your use of cyberspace.