The problem with e-mail

Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law and his associate Karen Munoz represent victims of wrongful death and personal injury. His column “Law and Wellness,” appears in the Chicago Lawyer and her column appears regularly in the Law Bulletin. This week’s column is written by Karen Munoz.

E-mail is a paradox. I can’t say it hasn’t helped me tremendously in getting things done while I am at court and waiting for a case to be called. Or when I am waiting for a plane at the airport or on my way to the office. But a certain part of me feels it has become a bit of a ball and chain. It follows me everywhere I go.

My phone is never turned off. It is my primary gate to others as I don’t have Wi-Fi at home. I also use it as an alarm clock so at night it is never too far from earshot. I guess the only time I don’t have it accessible is when I am on a plane or in a yoga class. I can’t tell you the anxiety I get when I turn my phone back on after a long flight and I wait for all my e-mail messages to appear. It’s usually a mix of non-urgent matters people felt the need to send on a Friday evening to me. But recently at the office I had a realization. The phone wasn’t as hectic as I was used to years before. Well that’s because instead of clients or other attorneys calling the office, people just e-mail.

The sound an e-mail makes when it hits your inbox is the new phone ring. The way we communicate with each other in the profession and with clients has changed dramatically since I started practicing. And that has only been a few years. Even when I was a clerk, I remember picking up the phone if I needed something from a client or opposing counsel. Now e-mail is the appropriate and preferred method.

My issue with it is this: I feel that it takes away a bit of the emotion in how we communicate. Yes we can address our clients’ needs and concerns faster and from anywhere. Yes it is easier to keep track of communications and for those that bill, a reminder of work on a file.  But call me crazy, I like hearing the sound of people’s voices. OK there are a few people I can live without talking to. But generally, I think it’s important to hear the tone of someone else’s voice, and their inflections.  For me it helps me understand where someone is coming from, whether they are kind, upset or angry. I feel I develop a better rapport with those attorneys I will be working with the foreseeable future. Clients appreciate a phone call but I feel they have been conditioned to use e-mail to get an immediate response.  I find myself using exclamation points, (which I know are taboo) when sending an e-mail just to convey emotion. On the flip side I find myself trying to read between the lines of e-mails as they can sometimes sound terse. There are great things about the way we communicate via e-mail. I still like communicating the old fashioned way though.

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