I recently responded to a lengthy email from the director of a company who wanted to “work with” LawCare in a way which effectively meant that we would be promoting their service to the legal profession. This was not something it was appropriate for us to do, but knowing that he would not be happy at the decision, I wrote an equally lengthy and detailed email in response, explaining exactly why we could not oblige. I fully expected a long-winded reply which would be at best pleading, at worst belligerent and demanding. But I had the good fortune that he responded using his Blackberry, and wrote simply “OK”.
There was recently some furore caused when a partner at a large London firm suggested that lawyers should be available to contact by email even when they are away on holiday. Blackberries now make it possible for solicitors to access and respond to email from anywhere, which means that many are finding themselves effectively on call at times which were usually relatively restful – the commute, their lunch hour, while reading their children a bedtime story, having dinner with friends or backpacking in Nepal. In theory, LawCare is opposed to anything which places an increased burden on already stressed lawyers and interferes with their much-needed down time.
However, the email from the pushy company director has changed my opinion of Blackberries, iPhones and similar devices. I don’t own a PDA – funds don’t permit – and perhaps I would have been singing their praises long ago if I did (if you want to buy me one I can be contacted through LawCare). But I can already see one advantage to them quite apart from being able to deal with your email on the train before you even get to the office. They can be very advantageous from the point of view of the person receiving an email message sent from “my wireless Blackberry mobile”, in that they are quite fiddly and difficult to use, so messages tend to be very short and to the point.
Looking back through my email I realise that there are several where the responses have been uncharacteristically brief – “Yes”, “No”, “Thanks” and “August” – and they were all sent using a Blackberry or similar device. I rather like such decisive brevity, and I can’t help but think how much easier it must have been for the lawyer in question just to dash off a quick reply from the back of a taxi than to spend valuable office time composing a long email which would, ultimately, say the same thing.
A good time management tip is to “cut to the chase”. Lawyers can be guilty of being very long-winded, formal and given to speaking in legalese. Having to use a Blackberry effectively concentrates the mind on what actually needs to be said, and how it can be said plainly, briefly and with the minimum of fumbled keystrokes on a tiny keyboard.
I’m going to call this “The Blackberry Effect” and suggest that it can ease the pressure of life as a lawyer when applied to other aspects of working life. Not just those emails you send from your office computer, but conversations with clients, colleagues and the general public, letters and phone calls. If you pretend that every form of communication you use is akin to tapping those annoying little keys, the Blackberry Effect might include-
- Thinking about what question is actually being asked, and answering it directly.
- Thinking about what your clients actually need to know, and will understand, and not boring them with irrelevant legal jargon
- Thinking about whether a reply to an email, letter or telephone call is necessary beyond an acknowledgement of receipt, or thanks.
- Thinking about the quickest way to get the information you need. Why waste time composing an email to a colleague asking for contact details when the number you need could be on the company’s website?
- Thinking about what is and isn’t either interesting, relevant or both, and thus worth passing on by email, in conversation or on the phone.
- Thinking about what the likely response to your communication is, and whether you should therefore ask at all. If the director of that company had really considered what he was asking LawCare to do he would not have sent the email in the first place, knowing that the answer would be No. Had he only had access to his Blackberry he might have balked at asking, and the email may never have been sent.
- Thinking about improving your writing (and speaking) style and being economical with words. Essential English for Journalists, Editors and Writers has a fifteen-page list of stale expressions, wasteful words and redundancies; for example mutual co-operation – co-operation is, by definition, mutual.
The Blackberry effect is about simplifying, cutting information to the bare minimum, and slowing down the information overload which adversely affects so many people today. So while the use of Blackberries may add to the burden of a lawyer who now finds that he or she is contactable anywhere and at any time, it can also help teach us that some things really don’t need to be said. Anything which helps save time, streamline the working day and free up time is valuable. But for goodness’ sake, remember that it has an “off” switch.
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