Monthly Archives: April 2007

Please Learn to Work the Phones

Have you found yourself in this mini-tragedy?

You and your outside counsel agree you need to have a three-way call with his tax partner. You will call him, and he will tie in his partner through their phone system.

The time arrives for the call. You dial him up.

You: Hi Jim. Ted here. I’m ready for our call with your tax partner.

Jim: Okay. Ah . . . just . . . one . . . second while I, um . . . lemme see if I can remember how to make this thing work . . . . . . . . . Hang on.

(The line goes silent for about 10 seconds. Then Jim returns.)

Jim: You still there?

You: Yep.

Jim: (somewhat embarrassed) Heh heh, okay, I think I’ve got this down. Here we go.

(More silence. This time about twice as long.)

Jim: Sarah?

You: Nope. Still me.

Jim: (nervously giggling) Ted, I’m sorry, but, heh heh, you know . . . these phones . . . heh heh. Let me just try another thing . . .

(And off in into silence you float for a third time. After about half a minute, Jim climbs back onto the line.)

Jim: (confidently) Ted?

You: Yep, I’m here.

Jim: Sarah?


Jim: Sarah? . . . oh damn. She was just there. (Deep sigh)

And so it continues, with many variations on this theme. Like most tragedies, it ends with lots of regret. On all sides. Unfortunately, this real-life episode added 10 worthless minutes (actually 12, since this firm rounds up to the next tenth of an hour) to our invoice.

Today we enjoy (suffer from?) instantaneous information transfer, yet it’s remarkable that so many lawyers haven’t mastered the simple act of working the telephone. This does not instill confidence. Why on earth would we trust outside counsel to exercise good judgment under pressure (such as, say, DURING A TRIAL) when he or she hasn’t invested an ounce of firm time – not client time – to learn the two or three basic steps to completing a three-way call?

If the firm’s telephone system came with this feature (we don’t know of any that don’t), it also came with an idiot-proof “cheat sheet” on how to use its features. Dear outside counsel, please find it and use it. This isn’t splitting atoms; three-way calling is 1960s technology. Like hourly billing.

Outside counsel shouldn’t expect us to sympathize either. These are basic skills. Like meeting deadlines and following procedure. Tittering and blaming the phone system won’t cut it.

Time entries that waste time

Who writes this time entry on a legal bill and expects it to be paid?

Research. 4.1 hrs.

Well, someone does. In fact, this time entry was on a whole page of similar ones like “Read letter. 0.3.” and “Answer email. 0.2”.

It’s remarkable that lawyers who don’t hesitate to labor over their briefs to capture every second of the reader’s attention fail to spend a fraction of that time composing what needs to be their most persuasive monthly work: the fee statement. Neither I (nor the business center manager whose budget is carrying this cost) should ever have to wonder what we received for the time billed.

A well-written legal bill should fully describe the work performed, with a view toward the relevance of the task to the engagement. Doesn’t “research applicability of 3-year statute of limitations to plaintiff’s recent claim for repetitive stress injury and summarize findings in short memorandum. 4.1 hrs.” sound like real work was done, instead of “Research. 4.1 hrs.”?

Each time entry should be self-justifying, and should never prompt an inquiry. In other words, a well-written legal bill is so clear and so transparent as to compel its recipient to pay it without question; its value is immediately apparent.