Connectivity is amazing – we can work from anywhere. I can use my cell or laptop to do almost anything I need to do for work. However, it can be hard to draw the line and walk away – it used to be that lawyers had office hours and people had no expectation of reaching their lawyer on weekends, or outside the hours of 8:00-5:00. Cell phones and email have completely changed this game. Clients think nothing of calling or emailing on a Saturday or in the middle of the night. It is really easy to get used to this, and to feel like you are an attorney “on call”, and to feel that good client representation means you should be available whenever and wherever.
As a young attorney, I bought into this game. I would take calls from clients without a second thought. As an attorney who uses her cell phone as her main contact, I get calls in all kinds of inconvenient places. Think late at night, early in the morning, during dinner, while outside . . . and my family doesn’t always cooperate. Spoiler alert: little kids do not always quiet down because you need them to. In fact, it is TRUTH that if your house is quiet and you think it is a good time to make a phone call, the children will find you like magic and there will be crises of epic proportions and screaming.
This situation made me feel like a cruddy attorney and a cruddy parent. If I was at home with my kids, I constantly found myself checking out to answer a work call. If I was working, I constantly found myself interrupting work to do other things. My email notifications and cell phone were making me multitask too often, and not always for the best. I always felt like I was doing everything a little, but nothing well. It started to wear on me big time, especially since I am a Type A person who likes to do things right.
I experimented, and began telling clients that I would be available for phone calls and emails between 9:00 and noon during weekdays. Afternoons were reserved for client appointments and big projects, and if I received a voicemail or email after noon or on a weekend, it would be returned the next weekday morning.
Guess what? IT WORKED. My client may think she needs to talk to me at 8:30 pm, but barring an emergency, she doesn’t. Whatever she needs, 99% of the time, can wait until morning. By explaining to clients that this system allowed me to concentrate on their legal matters each afternoon, while still having a time of day devoted to answering questions, I maximized my efficiency. I learned that drawing boundary lines was up to me – if I led my clients to believe that I would be available all day and night, they would grow to expect that from me. My disjointed life was because of my lack of structure.
Now, clients know when to call me and the number of off-hours calls has dropped dramatically. This means I no longer have to take calls in the middle of dinner or a soccer game. My afternoons are devoted to project work, and I have found I am a much better writer and attorney when I am not stopping to take a call or answer an email constantly. Best of all, my work time is mostly spent actually working, and my family time is spent mostly with my family. I no longer feel like I am doing everything poorly, and that is a big relief.
Good client representation does not mean being a concierge. Don’t be afraid to draw some boundary lines to keep you sane – if a client isn’t okay with some boundaries, then maybe she wasn’t the right client for you anyway.