Under Analysis- Don't Call Me, I'll Call You

   Maybe I’m just lucky, but I have never had a problem with getting lawyers to return my calls.  Maybe I’m just uptight, but I’ve also never had a problem returning calls myself.  Maybe the two are related.  Maybe there are a lot of reasons for both of these facts, however, I found myself quite annoyed that a lawyer that I contacted and left two voicemails for over the course of two weeks has still not returned my calls.
   One of the first tips of advice I got as a new attorney from a wise lawyer was to return calls by the end of business the following day.  Initially, I did not receive this advice with an open mind.  Returning calls was intimidating.  As a lawyer with a week of experience under my belt, I admit that I did not trust myself to speak intelligently without a few hours of research first.  However, as I gained experience and confidence, returning calls became easy – even fun.  It was not hard to make it a priority. 
  I’m glad it was easy to make it a priority because I didn’t want to be one of those lawyers that doesn’t call people back.  A stereotype exists that all lawyers don’t return calls and are hard to reach.  Perhaps there is value to keeping up this mirage: reduced expectation to return calls, greater client reliance on firm staff, Wizard of Oz-like mystery.  Of course, returning calls by the end of business the following day is not always possible, like when you are in a prolonged trial or you are in Jamaica or your name is Johnnie Cochran (RIP).  It’s moments like these where good support staff is vital, but that’s another discussion.
  One of the many downsides to failing to return calls is that moment of doubt you create in the mind of a client, colleague, or caller.  The moment of doubt sounds something like this, “If the lawyer isn’t returning my call, what does this say about his or her professional ability?”  I don’t think any lawyer wants to be the object of that kind of doubt.  Communication is supposed to be one of a lawyer’s greatest skills, and if he or she isn’t good at that, I’m not sure what’s left. 
   But what are the benefits of returning calls?  A lot of times, the client or caller wants something pretty simple: an update on their case, advice over something practical, and even to give you new business.  Let’s not forget the billable hour – returning calls sometimes equals money. 
  Personally, I preferred the kind of relationship with a client where there was open communication, friendliness, and clear expectations.   Returning calls fosters that kind of solid, trusting professional relationship.  Returning calls also meant I had another opportunity to repeat my “spiel”– how cases like theirs normally proceed, what their expectations should be, and the reminder to please not talk about their case at their town hall meeting.  I was okay with repeating myself – people forget things, people don’t necessarily understand the law, and did I mention billing this time?
   A lot of times, calls mean bad news, but sometimes they bring good news.  You never know when opposing counsel is going to roll over and settle.  How can your opposing party ever surrender to you if you don’t return that call?  (It’s the lawyer’s version of the tree falling in the forest dilemma.) 
   Avoiding Bar complaints related to unreturned calls is always a good idea.  I know a few lawyers that return calls and also create a paper trail of it by responding to their assistant indicating they have done so, or wrapping up a complicated or significant conversation by reinforcing the essentials in a letter to the caller.
  One of the greatest (and unsung) benefits of returning every single call is having an unwavering knowledge that I returned every single call I got.  If I was accused of failing to return a call, I could honestly say it didn’t happen and never would happen.  When a client once angrily accused me of ignoring calls from two of his family members, I was able to speak with a level of confidence that made the client immediately back down.  It turns out, both family members admitted they did not call me because they thought the other family member called me.  Instead of apologizing for failing to return a call, I received an apology.  I definitely prefer to be in that position.
   I finally heard back from the lawyer who had not returned my calls.  This time, I left a detailed message for him that I had a referral for someone who  won the lottery and needed some advice.  I got a returned call within minutes.


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