Thursday, February 14, 2013

Should You Give Out Your Cell Phone Number?

I read lots of articles on marketing.  Many of those articles are specifically directed at lawyer marketing.  Many are interviews with lawyers deemed credible as rainmakers.  The topic of cell phones comes up frequently.  The prevailing attitude  is that lawyers should give their cell phone numbers out to their clients (being fully aware that they then become 24/7 service providers).

Is this approach right for family law lawyers?  It is a tough question to answer.  Certainly our clients are engaged in a horribly emotional and nerve wracking experience when going through divorce.  Questions are constantly popping in and out of their heads.  Reassurance is required.  Sometimes they just need someone to talk to.

At the same time, we lawyers need balance.  To stay fresh and sharp I feel it is essential that there is a daily separation from work.  Our minds, bodies, and souls need some me time.  We need to flush the emotion and the stress of family law away, so that we can come back to work stronger and better.  We need to spend time with our families, and our families deserve us with them.

Can that separation occur if we are handing out our cell phone numbers to our clients?  Perhaps.  I recently took an informal survey of my colleagues in the local family law bar.  To my surprise the majority of the most successful, highly regarded, family law lawyers in my poll said they never give their cell phone numbers to their clients.  They don't even discuss the topic with their clients.

I, not being as successful as those marquee lawyers, have a different policy.  If a client asks for my cell phone number, I will share it.  But it is also with the caveat that it is only to be used in emergencies.  I remind them that the courthouses close at 4, 3, 2 (depending on which court), and that there is very little that I can do to solve emergency problems when the court is closed.  I also let them know that I have a family that deserves my attention as well, and that when I am with them, I deliver and they expect my undivided attention.  I also remind them of my policy to return all messages left by 4 p.m. on the same day, Monday through Friday.  Finally I give them the old doctor's office message:  if it is a true medical or safety emergency, they should call 911.

For the most part this policy works well.  Maybe once every couple of months a client goes beyond the rules.  I deal with the pressing issue, but first I remind them that they have called me on my cell phone, and I ask them to hang up and call my office so that we can discuss the issue further.  Alternatively, I let the call go to voice mail.  I retrieve the message, and then I call the client back from my office phone -- reminding them during the return call that they mistakenly dialed my cell phone, and that their calls will likely be returned faster if they call my office number.

I think the policy I employ is reasonable for me and the client.  If it is unacceptable to the client, then that tells me the client is going to be a problem and maybe we shouldn't be working together.

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