Can you hear me now?
Every time I see that Verizon guy, I want to have him sent to Guantanamo Bay never to be heard from again. Little does that bespeckled network geek know that he is peddling the one thing that will lead me to snap one day:
Cheap telephone service.
The phone is the primary tool of my profession and it is a tool that I want to beat myself with on a daily basis. I use my phone more than I use my iPad, my computer and my brain. Clients, prospective clients, witnesses, opposing counsel, court staff and the occasional investment banker call each and every day. Sometimes twice a day. If I am really lucky, I’ll get one person calling four or more times a day.
“Where’s my settlement?” [Uh, you won’t let me settle.]
”Why do you have such shitty clients?” [Sorry your Honor, but I guess I’m just lucky.]
“Why am I talking to you and not your partner?” [Because he doesn’t value you as a client and I bill at a cheaper rate.]
Every day it is more of the same. Every day I spend at least five minutes thinking about taking my scissors and cutting the phone cord (though that wouldn’t have any impact when clients call my cell phone, use Skype or show up unannounced). Spending this much time on the phone, I’ve started to come up with a few guidelines for when I find myself just getting a little too wise for my own good.
1. I use sir or ma’am (“Pat” is acceptable if you can’t tell if ma’am or sir is proper) to avoid cursing. I was on the phone with one client for approximately four hours today attempting to convince him of the merits of settling his case. I was failing, I was getting pissed and I couldn’t exactly tell a client to “shove his f***ing notions of justice up his mother f***king ass”. Instead of ringing the bell that can never be unrung, I just became extremely polite. [And once the call was over I swore at the top of my lungs at the phone.]
2. I avoid legal jargon with clients (avoid jokes with opposing counsel). You don’t want the client (or opposing counsel) to feel stupid. When you make the client feel stupid, they don’t trust you and they sure as hell don’t want to follow your advice. Same goes for opposing counsel. Well…making opposing counsel feel stupid is ok.
3. I talk as if I am being recorded. Because you just might be. Trust me on this one. You don’t want the State Bar or the FBI listen to your voice encouraging the client to do something stupid. Just let your client say the stupid things. I’ve had clients ask me if they should shred evidence or how they should lie on their answers to interrogatories regarding key issues. It’s usually about that time that I violate rule number one, swear loudly at the person on the other end and beat my head in with the receiver.
4. I try to listen more, talk less and zone out frequently. I’ve been told that there is nothing more obedient than a tired dog. Let these people talk themselves to until they are blue in the face…that’s why you have a computer. The drawbacks come when they start asking you questions. Just remember to blame your crappy phone connection for when you can’t cover up the fact that you weren’t paying attention.
5. I do not rush an important conversation even if my bladder wants to explode. I’ve learned this one the hard way one too many times. There is no shame in using your garbage can to relieve yourself (with a secretary watching). There is shame in wetting yourself and having the phone call end badly.
All that being said, I have office hours, I have limited patience, and calling me on my cell phone during prime time television my time at the gym might make me summon my inner Sasha Fierce:
Boy, the way you blowin' up my phone
won't make me leave no faster.
Put my coat on faster,
leave my girls no faster.
I shoulda left my phone at home,
'cause this is a disaster!
Callin' like a collector -
sorry, I cannot answer!