Jim Provenzale

Get on the Horn – In Praise of the Phone

October 2, 2023Blog Post
Iowa State Bar Association

Legal professionals live in a world dominated by electronic messages. Most of us can name at least one colleague with carpal tunnel syndrome, a side effect of banging on a keyboard all day trying to stay afloat in an ocean of emails.

Email, the default communication mode for professionals, brings all sorts of advantages that make it indispensable. It’s so ubiquitous that we often forget about other options for exchanging information, including the phone. But A.G. Bell’s invention brings advantages of its own.    

Immediately exchange ideas to reach a solution
Solutions to complex legal issues often require two or more professionals to rapidly bounce ideas off each other. I may offer an approach to the problem that you immediately recognize as flawed. Your recognition of the flaw may trigger Jenny to come up with an alternative approach, which I may refine based on past experience. Generating ideas in this way works much better on a conference call than in an email chain, where it’s easy for people to ignore and misinterpret each other’s insights.

Express a sense of urgency
There’s a tendency to respond to messages in the order in which they’re received. Want to jump to the front of the queue when vying for someone’s attention? Pick up the phone. Phone calls, by virtue of their scarcity in relation to emails, signify importance more effectively than an email.

Develop new business
Lawyers and their prospective clients don’t always live in the same city. In situations where it’s not practical to meet for coffee, the next best way to earn an engagement is through the phone. During a 15-minute free-flowing chat with a prospect, you may stumble upon an opportunity to collaborate that never would have come to light through email.

Break through an impasse
Resolving a disagreement via email can be challenging. We regularly see people’s initial positions get entrenched the longer the email chain lasts. Sometimes it takes a conference call, where it’s harder for people to avoid squarely addressing each other’s concerns, to hammer out differences. 

Take the temperature of remote staff
If you manage remote staff, it can be difficult to get a sense of how they’re doing strictly through a dry email exchange. Picking up the phone allows you to build rapport with your team and gives you a better sense of how engaged they are.

Use the phone as a pressure-release valve
We’ve all heard the maxim “Don’t write anything in an email that you wouldn’t want to appear on the front page of the newspaper.” When emotions run high in litigation or deal negotiation and you need to blow off steam, better to do so on the phone with a discrete colleague than to send an email that could inadvertently get forwarded or become subject to discovery.

In summary, don’t let that clunky device on the corner of your desk collect too much dust. Using the phone as part of a balanced communication diet can advance your practice in meaningful ways.