Think Twice Before You Pick Up That Phone

Yesterday, I came across a blog post that suggested that attorneys should forego email when they need to communicate bad news or delicate messages to a client because it may be difficult to convey the message properly without facial expressions and voice tone.   But is this really true?

While some people may feel that a phone call or an in-person visit might be the best way to deal with bad news or a touchy matter, some of the most important and delicate moments in history were delivered in writing—the Declaration of Independence, the New York Sun’s letter to 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon about the existence of Santa Claus, and the countless number of Twitter updates that directed aid in Haiti last month, just to name a few.

While I agree that it may be difficult to convey some messages via a text message or casual communication, a well-written email or online message can be as effective if not more effective than spoken communication.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • Written communication allows you to edit your thoughts before you communicate the message.  While you may prepare for a meeting or a phone call, you may accidentally say something that you didn’t want to say, but if you write it down, you can read and rewrite your message until is succinctly represents exactly what you want to communicate to your client.
  • Written communication forces the client to read everything you wanted your client to know before he or she interrupts you with questions that you had already planned to answer.  This can save a lot of time, anxiety and frustration.
  • There is no time limit on writing a letter.  Have you ever tried to call someone only to get his or her voicemail or find that person heading out the door in a rush? Sometimes a 30-second message is not enough, but if you write your message down, your client will have time to read the message when it is most convenient.  That means that your client will be able to get the message, process it and respond to it on his or her own time without being put on the spot with shocking news or a disappointing phone call.
  • Letters, email and online communication provide a communication trail.  If you have a virtual law office, you can make sure that all written communication is saved in an organized format, by date, topic, case file or some other labeling system.  This can be useful when you or your client need to recall previous discussions or when you need to relate a pressing matter back to the events and communications that came before it.
  • Finally, take a look at almost any well-written novel, article and public announcement.  Authors have been able to pen tone and emotion into their writing since the beginning of print, and many of those authors were attorneys.  As attorneys, we spent four years of college and three years of law school learning how to communicate effectively in writing.  Many attorneys spend more hours creating contracts, briefs, motions and other written documents on a daily basis than they spend speaking.  In other words, as an attorney, you probably qualify as an expert in written communication.  So, before you pick up the phone to call your client or set up a last-minute meeting, ask yourself whether your message would be more effectively communicated through writing.  Many times, an email, online message or a letter will get the job done in a more polite and professional manner.