Archive for January 4th, 2010

Cell Phone Etiquette for Attorneys (or anyone in fact)

Posted on January 4th, 2010 in Client Services, Jaimie Field | 7 Comments »

In 1992, when I graduated from law school and began working in the “business world”, cell phones were not as ubiquitous as they are today.  In fact, my first cell phone was a true brick:  it was the size, shape, thickness and weight of a brick – carrying it in my pocketbook caused excruciating shoulder pain.  I used it only for emergencies. 

cell_phone 2Now I, like many people, cannot imagine being without my cell and have experienced mild panic attacks when I realize that I got into my car and my cell phone was not in my purse or on my person.  I have even turned around and driven back to my home to get it. 

The cell phone has made it possible for us to never be out of touch.  And now with Blackberrys and Smart Phones, we can call people whenever we want, E-mail, text, send updates to our status on FaceBook, tweet to our Twitter feed, take pictures, send pictures, watch video, listen to music.  

But with it comes a total lack of etiquette as well.  

I was recently on a New York City bound train at rush hour and couldn’t help overhearing the conversations of the people on their mobile devices.  Of course I couldn’t help it – for some reason, when people are on their phones they lose the ability to modulate their voice levels.  (It always reminds me of that scene in the first Austin Powers movie when they unfreeze the lead character who had been cryogenically frozen for 30 years.)

Now in this particular instance I was listening to someone speak of their Uncle Joe’s liver transplant and how this holiday season is going to be tough since he is not allowed to drink anymore.  What do you think?  Too Much Information?

This got me to thinking about Attorneys and their cell phone etiquette (or in some instances, lack thereof).  I have been at lunches where a phone call has interrupted a perfectly wonderful conversation.  Then, I sat there while my attorney client had a 10 minute conversation right in front of me.  It is important to add that there was nothing that I heard from their end of the conversation that couldn’t have been said at a later time.

So here are my Cell Phone Etiquette Rules:

First:  (Unless you are also a doctor or drug dealer, someone in your family is in the hospital or you have a child under the age of 15 at home) If you are in a meeting or at an appointment, there is no call that is that important that you have to take it at that second.  Now before I get yelled at in the comments section, if you are a criminal attorney and one of your clients has been arrested, then yes, that’s an important call.  And yes, emergencies do come up.

Almost everyone I know has a Caller ID function on their phone.  You know who is calling and whether that call is important.  If you don’t know who it is and for whatever reason cannot allow it to go to voicemail, then answer the call, inquire as to who it is, and tell them you will call them back shortly. 

However, for every other call there is this lovely invention called Voicemail.  Let your voicemail pick up the call.

Second:  If you do have to answer a call for whatever reason, excuse yourself from where ever you are at that moment and walk away.  There is no reason to carry on a conversation with someone sitting in front of you.   Not only is this rude, it makes the person who is sitting in that meeting feel unimportant.  And for goodness sake, make it as brief as you possibly can. 

When you return from the call, apologize to the person with whom you were meeting for interrupting “but that call could not wait.”   They need no other information, just an apology.

Third:  Cell phones have come a long way.  You no longer have to scream into the phone to be heard.  Learn to speak in a modulated voice.   For some reason, people are even worse with headsets (hands free devices) as they don’t think any one can hear them on the other end of the line.

This also leads to a very important point:  Attorney-Client Privilege.  We live in a world where “Six degrees of Separation” or the “Human Web” theory is alive and well.  You never know who is sitting next to you or who they know or who they follow on FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.   “Gossip” is spread at a much faster rate now than ever before.   A conversation over the cell phone with your client in a public place could breach your duty to your client if someone overhears something private.  Be very careful of your conversations to the people with whom you are speaking you could be violating ethics rules. 

Fourth:  Texting, tweeting, answering emails, surfing the web, or any other activity that is being conducted on a phone other than talking is just as rude as taking a call.  Again, there is nothing that cannot wait 30 minutes to an hour for your meeting to be over.

Attorneys who would become livid if their client was texting, tweeting or emailing away, or taking phone calls during their meetings think nothing of doing it to their clients. 

What are your thoughts on this?

The Client Services Myth in Law Firms

Posted on January 4th, 2010 in Client Services, Rainmaking | 7 Comments »

Last week I went to dinner with my father.  We went to a place that we love and have been many times I times in the past because they have amazing steaks and burgers for relatively inexpensive prices.  The service is always very good, however towards the end of the meal, this visit, things seemed to break down. 

We ordered dessert and coffee.  When they arrived, we doctored the coffee with our milk and sweetner only to discover that the milk had turned sour and now our coffee was undrinkable.  Not spotting our server nearby, we called to another server who was bussing the table next to us and asked if we could get replacement coffees.  

The server (not our original one) gave us a disgusted look, continued to clear his table to get it ready for another party, and then walked away.  My father looked at me, and I at him wondering what, if any action would be taken.  Shortly, he came back to set his table and said that he had informed our server and she would take care of it. 

It took 10 more minutes before our original server was able to get fresh coffee and creamer to our table.   All the other server had to do was to remove our cups and bring new coffee and cream to our table.  However, we were not his table (and therefore wouldn’t be tipping him) so he was not going out of his way to help.  Let’s just say this left a bit of a bad taste in our mouths. 

However, I know, having waited tables and bartended during college and law school, that every restaurant claims they have amazing customer service.  Servers are told to help anyone who asks regardless of whether it is their table or not.  However, this rarely seems to happen.

Let’s extend this to the Law Firms out there. 

Almost every law firm (or professional services firm for that matter) declares that they have amazing client service procedures in place.  In fact, many of the top law firms have some wonderful little phrase listed on their websites or in their marketing claiming that “our clients’ come first,” “our clients are the most important to us” and the best one, “we strive to provide excellent client services.” 

I have even seen, on some law firm websites, a list of client service promises that the law firm makes.  

Yet phone calls and emails are not returned, clients are pawned off to associates without the clients’ knowledge, and attorneys can be downright rude to clients if the client is not behaving as the attorney would like him/her to be. 

BTI Consulting, in a survey ranking law firm – client relationships, recently provided a disturbing fact:  “87.1% of clients today admit that they will replace their current primary law firm if given a compelling reason.”  BTI concentrates mostly on Big Law, but if this is the case there, imagine how many clients would leave your solo, small or midsize practices?

These  are just a few ways to keep clients happy:

  • Respond to every client inquiry promptly:  I have a rule for my Rainmaking Consulting practice –   everybody receives a response within 48 hours (during the business week) of their contact with me.  Usually, I respond a lot quicker (and most of the time over the weekends), but you will hear back from me within that time frame.


  • Be honest:  The reason Attorneys do not respond to their clients when they call is that they don’t have an answer for them at that time.  Respond to them anyway.  There is no shame in saying: “I don’t know anything yet, but I will call you as soon as I hear something.”  More often than not, a client just wants to be reassured that you are still on the case; that they haven’t just become a cog in your wheel.


  • If you are going to hand the work over to an associate, tell your client.  Ask the client to come in to meet with both you and the associate.  Reassure your client that not only will you be supervising the case but that you implicitly trust your associate and the work they can do.


  • No matter how poorly a client may treat you, they are still your client.  Chances are they are stressed out by the legal matter which they are going through.  It is your job to respect your client and reassure them.  You can also politely ask them to treat you with the same respect you are showing them.  Being rude to a client will not only result in the same behavior being returned, but it may also result in the loss of a client. 

Rest assured that if you practice the same type of client service you would want, you clients will remain with you and are more likely to refer you to new client. 

What client service standards are you planning on implementing for your practice?  What other ideas do you have for great client service?  Comment below: