Anyone who is a lawyer can relate to the perennial quest to find work-life balance, but this odyssey becomes compounded when you are also the boss. Even though acquiring all of your business, as well as making sure the legal representation you provide is good, determines whether you may be paying your rent in a given month, you have to decide where you draw the line with your clients.
Drawing this line also works to the benefit of your clients, who end up getting more comprehensive and meaningful counsel than through the superficial interaction that not drawing these boundaries may lead to…
TTYLing with Clients
As more people become mobile, they want to use their mobile devices to communicate on the fly and to tackle issues as they arise with their legal representation. Often when one of our clients is in the midst of an investment deal or a negotiation, they want the immediate support of their legal counsel.
When your client may be in a time zone that prohibits you from getting that “okay” sleep you strive for with their persistent text messages, you have to decide at some point to just ignore these communications for the moment.
Use of text messaging is one of the places that we have drawn the line in order to ensure that we retain a degree of separation from our clients and are archiving our conversations and interactions with them in a fashion appropriate to respecting some of the unique ethical obligations of the profession.
When your clients want to use informal means of communication and find you on the various social networks, this is an important place to draw the line and create a zone where you just don’t conduct business.
It also does not benefit the client. It is much better to provide legal counsel in person, over the phone, and via email, because these methods of communication lend themselves to being more appropriate to explain things that may be complex.
Being Reachable Any Time
I’m a firm believer that good customer service, i.e., client service, is paramount to having a successful law firm in today’s legal and economic environment. That being said, there is providing excellent customer service and being on call 24/7 to be at the beck and call of your clients.
Even if you are up at 3 a.m. working, I beg of you to avoid my mistakes of answering emails instantaneously. First, it is exceedingly late, and you are probably not bringing your best game at that time. Second, you’ve got to give yourself some space and make it clear to your clients that you are not always working. You may always be bringing your best when you are “at work,” but you, again, are not on call 24/7.
Boundaries, even little ones if you are just starting out, are important so that you do take some time to recharge. Very tired lawyers become angry ones who tend to make mistakes.
Even though this may seem counterintuitive, waiting until the morning is also better for your clients. Having some sleep and time to mull something over is normally a better course of action than a cursory response that might get you in trouble later.
Christina Gagnier leads the Intellectual Property, Internet & Technology practice at Gagnier Margossian LLP, with a specialization in social media, copyright and information privacy. She is also at the helm of REALPOLITECH, a digital public relations consultancy that provides a broad range of services, including crisis communications. She serves on the Board of Directors of Without My Consent, combating issues like revenge porn. If you ever need to find her, start with Twitter at @gagnier or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.