In this recent post at More Partner Income, Tom Collins asks whether an attorney who has a one day turn-around to respond to email and phone calls is being responsive. Tom Collins says no, as does Ed Poll. As a practicing attorney, however, I don’t completely agree.
Some days, I might return late to my office from depositions or meetings and simply don’t have the energy to respond to an email or phone call. There are some days when I’m under or close to a deadline and I simply
can’t pick up the phone or answer every email that comes in. Collins criticizes this approach, asking whether clients would be “happy dealing with someone who places a greater priority on their own efficiency than yours?” Maybe not, but at the same time, I’m certain that those same clients would not want you to miss one of their deadlines because you were responding to someone else’s emails.
Ultimately, responsiveness involves balance. When you’re juggling even
a reasonable number of clients, all of them can’t expect to have their
demands met instantaneously. So you have to give priority to those
with the most immediate needs first.
At the same time, I certainly do not advocate the blanket approach by the attorney described in Collins’ post who has a policy
of responding to emails and phone calls a day after he receives them.
That’s one of those “lowering expectation” techniques that I don’t
endorse (as an aside, there’s nothing wrong with realistic
expectations, where you honestly tell a client it will take a week and
you finish in two days. But to lie and pump up estimates and then come
in way under target to look good I think is dishonest). If I receive
an email and can readily respond quickly, I’ll do so. Same with a
phone call. What I also try to do to make myself available and avoid
the annoyance of phone tag is to use email to schedule calls, so that a
client does not go crazy trying to get me by phone and vice versa. Sometimes, if I have free time and I’ve not spoken with a client in a while, I’ll get in touch with him or her, which enables me to act responsively within the parameters of my schedule.
Being responsive means being around when someone needs you, not being at someone’s beck and call 24-7 just because you can. Though I consider myself a good parent, I’m not even that responsive to my on children (I’d like to be but it’s not always possible and maybe not even to their benefit) – and I’m certainly not going to treat my clients better than I treat my own family.