Why does a lawyer not answer the phone!?!

Is it Too Much to Expect a Lawyer to Answer the Phone?

Before I answer this very pertinent question, I feel the need to explain my personal views about the telephone... I am one of those weird people who would rather order a pizza on the internet than pick up the phone to do it.  I find having to spell my name to the take-out place supremely annoying, especially spelling it for the four hundredth time that day and on a bad cell phone connection.  I did not want a separate phone line as a teenager.  I am more likely to draw you a picture (LITERALLY) than to call you!  

That being said... I'm in a line of work that gets many things done via phone calls.  It's more personal than email. Much better than fax. And if you can't meet face-to-face, it's often the only way to get a feel for the opposition as an actual human being.  I have resigned myself that the phone will never be replaced as a means of communication, and I truly am ok with that.  But do not expect me to call someone after work is over of my own free will!  I talk enough on the phone from 8-5 (or more like 7-8 some days!).

This brings me to a recent post I just put up on Twitter using their new "Polling" feature.  This is a PICTURE below--you can't actually vote using this pic (use the link instead: https://twitter.com/justie4justice).

Firstly, I wanted to try the new Twitter feature, because, why not? But secondly, I really am curious about the answers.  Statistically speaking, my Twitter followers may not be a significant enough sample size to make any conclusions, though, so I'm posing the same question to my blog followers: 

Post Your Answer In the Comments To the Blog, OR 

Follow Me and Answer on Twitter!

Professionally, I use a cell phone as a business phone like many people in solo practice.  I shamelessly screen calls, too.  To be clear though, I do NOT screen calls from clients so much as if it's a number I don't recognize, I will automatically assume it's someone trying to sell my business something.  Typically, I get spammed on something akin to "guaranteed first page google listing," etc.  Really?!? Because you know Google's algorithm for search engine ranking, while everything I've ever read about SEO says you likely don't know what you're talking about!?  Yeah, I'm totally likely to pay you for such a service after you cold-called me.  

I set strict procedures up so that clients can't call me after business hours and to ensure that I get quality sleep without worrying about how to bail someone out of jail tomorrow.  That's not to say that if a client DOES call me after-hours that I can't or won't answer it, but merely that a) I'll know it's a client or someone calling the NLO number, and b) the phone just won't ring after 11 p.m. unless you're on my trusted list.  I think this is just necessary for sanity's sake! 

Lately, though--as in, the last week--I've been getting call after call after call to the NLO number.  That by itself is generally a good thing: ya'll can find me! But, and this is a big but, nobody leaves me a voicemail!  Am I missing out on potential clients because I didn't answer? Folks don't want to leave a message because I don't have a live receptionist (to keep overhead down)? 

I have a very thorough voicemail intake message, but should it really include instruction that if you do not leave a message I won't call you back!? Is that a thing? If I call someone, I generally want a call back, so I'll leave my number on the message.  Is this not common courtesy??? I digress a bit, though.  The topic of this post is about why LAWYERS won't answer the phone, not about why CLIENTS don't leave messages (which is apparently similar to a "poke" in some circles--don't get me started on the phraseology, but just read: http://ask.metafilter.com/249420/Am-I-breaking-some-unwritten-cell-phone-rule). 

5 Primary Reasons Lawyers Don't Answer Calls

Many lawyers are answering their own phones nowadays.  Gone are the days of only #biglaw being an option.  Many of us have now struck out on our own (yeah, #smalllaw!!). I find being solo promotes better quality legal advice, and better client service, all for a cheaper price. 

 By not always being able to answer my phone personally, though, am I affecting my client service?  Most days, I am able to get back to a client, prospective client, or anyone else who leaves me a message within 24 hours--and my voicemail intake says this plainly.  Nevertheless, many legal blogs (such as this one) suggest that by not having a person answer the phone every time it rings, we as lawyers are failing our clients.  If this is true, lawyers of future generations are so screwed.  
So, for your reference, here are the five primary reasons why lawyers don't answer their calls (from personal experience, folks, not from research or statistics):

  1. I AM WITH ANOTHER CLIENT.  It's hard to because I do value YOUR business and strive to make you feel like your case is the most important one I'm working on (it may very well be!).  But, I also have to talk to other clients and prospective clients, be it in person or on the phone.
  2. I AM IN COURT. Court takes up a TON of time.  You have to check in, wait for the DA to get the file, talk to the DA, talk to the clerk, talk to the judge, get another court date, get a reminder slip, etc. etc. etc.  One court appearance for a quick reset can sometimes be all afternoon depending on the jurisdiction. 
  3. I AM DRIVING.  I travel to my clients most of the time. I have other duties in other jurisdictions, and I actually take cases throughout approximately one quarter of the state of Colorado.  Northeastern Colorado is a VAST place, and it takes hours to get anywhere sometimes.  I find it is bad practice to answer your call while I am driving because a) it leads to distracted driving, and b) it leads to giving distracted legal advice.  When I call you back, I will have the ability to take notes, keep track of your concerns, digest your problem, and give you complicated legal advice in simple terms. I can probably even email you a to-do list if I am near my computer. I can't do any of that while driving.
  4. I AM IN A MEETING OF ANOTHER SORT.  Believe it or not, lawyers are usually booked solid.  At least those of us in solo practice are, anyway.  If I do not have court or a client meeting, I am generally working on marketing in another form.  Typically, I attend in-person networking events because it's the best way to make connections.  So, I am a member of Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, TWO Solo/Small Firm sections, the Colorado Bar Association, the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, the Larimer County Women's Bar Association, and many many others.  These sections provide me with networking connections, but also continuing education, which I am required to obtain a certain amount every three years as part of maintaining my license.  I can actually EARN CLE CREDITS by going to lunch meetings with an education component.  Staying current on the areas of law in which I practice, and learning about new areas of law takes an insane amount of time! 
  5. I AM VOLUNTEERING.  Volunteer work is something that is important to many lawyers, whether it's a particular pro bono case, or doing something non-legal to help our communities.  Many of us enjoy giving back. In my case, I regularly work on committees for the many organizations that I blong to.  I also teach about preventing animal cruelty and violence towards people as a result of the LINK between Animal Abuse, Domestic Violence, Child Abuse, and Elder Abuse.  I am teaching all Colorado animal control officers how to testify in court, and teaching at Regis University next month, for example.  I am passionate about this cause, and won't accept speaker's fees from these local agencies.  And I am exploring adjunct professorship ideas, too!!! If I can't get to the phone, it's best to assume I'm working for animals! 

Tips and Hints for Contacting Your Lawyer

Most calls are returned in 24-48 hours.  Texts sent to my NLO number are sometimes easier to answer, especially if I am in an out-of-service area and because they will go to my email.  Voicemails also get transcribed to my email, but if you don't leave one, I can't get back to you!  Merely getting a "missed call from" message does not help me help you! Don't "poke" a professional.  

If you're still frustrated about the lack of communication--and I really hope if so, you are a client of a different attorney, rather than myself--you might check out this helpful guide. I especially liked the part about a) not overreacting because your lawyer is naturally confrontational and will not take a personal attack well, and b) lawyers are rational people, so try to behave rationally!