Don’t point that smiling emoticon at me!

Tuesday’s New York Timescontains an article regarding advice from a law firm senior partner to young lawyers regarding the use of email communications. The point of the article is really that there are some things that simply must be done face-to-face. He is advice was in the context of using communication technology to avoid travel costs, but it seems to me it applies not only to lawyers, but paralegals, and applies even when the person with whom you are communicating is just across town or in the office down the hall:

Emoticons may work in personal communications. But Don G. Lents, the chairman of Bryan Cave, the international law firm, said he doesn’t like seeing them in business communications. If you’re depending on a smiley face to communicate a thought to a client or a distant colleague, he tells young lawyers in his firm, you should probably step away from the keyboard, get on a plane and communicate in person. Especially if the communication involves any kind of dispute.

“You should never engage in a disagreement electronically,” Mr. Lents said he advises them. “If you are going to disagree with somebody, you certainly don’t want to do it by e-mail, and if possible you don’t even want to do it by phone. You want to do it face to face.”…

“That’s an important message that does not necessarily come naturally to a lot of younger people today who have grown up with so much of their communications being by texting and e-mail,” he said. “I tell our younger lawyers, if you think you are going to have a difficult interaction with a colleague or a client, if you can do it face to face that’s better, because you can read the body language and other social signals.”

“In texting and e-mails or even videoconferencing, you can’t always gauge the reaction and sometimes things can have a tendency to be misunderstood, or they can ratchet up to a level of seriousness that you didn’t anticipate,” he added. “In person, you see that somebody reacting in a way that you didn’t expect. Then you can stop and figure out what’s going on, and adapt.”

The importance of body language and the ability to communicate as well as exchange information are difficult to overstate, as indicated by the extensive treatment given to them in the chapter on dealing with attorneyr relationships in The Empowered Paralegal.

However, I’d also like to emphasize Mr. Lent’s admonishion not to use emoticons and the like in business communications. It’s fine in personal communications, but just does not cut it professionally. Remember that all communications, even those between you and another paralegal working on a case, may be reviewed at some point by a client (when they take the file to another attorney), by another attorney’s office, by a malpractice insurance carrier, be a malpractice jury, or by the Board of Bar Overseers or other entity regulating attorneys. If a client’s complaint relates to a lack of professionalism (and they all do in a way), a file filled with unprofessional communications is not a good start.

I require my students to communicate with me with the same professionalism they should demonstrate in the office. An email that reads, “CN U MEET @ 4? J” will not get a response, while  

 Prof. Mongue,

  Are you available to meet with us at 4:00 p.m. today? 

 John Student.


Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: , ,

One Comment

Leave a Reply