How Lawyers Can Best Handle The Email Tsunami

How Lawyers Can Best Handle The Email Tsunami 5
How Lawyers Can Best Handle The Email Tsunami 6

Victoria Hudgins*The mountain of emails greeting a lawyer when they start their work day can be a daunting task. Add in a steady avalanche of emails throughout the day, and a lawyer can easily feel besieged and stressed.

Being inundated with emails was one of various work stressors that the “Friend or Foe: Tech and Well-Being” session at ABA TechShow 2020 discussed on Feb. 28.

Downs Law business manager Jennifer Downs and Arizona state bar lawyer assistance programs director Roberta Tepper offered solutions to alleviate work stresses and foster improved work-life integration.

Email Triage

To address the email pain point, Downs recommended an “email triage,” where an attorney sets a dedicated time to check emails sent while they are out of the office. After that allotted time, they need to shift from emails to work on something substantive, she said.

Lawyers can also set up automated response messages notifying clients when they check emails, Tepper added. While the response is automated, Tepper said, it soothes most clients’ anxiety and informs them that they will hear back from the attorney.

For internal communication, the panelists recommended leveraging Microsoft Teams, Slack, Trello and other collaboration platforms to cut down the emails stuffing their inboxes. 

Non Tech Answers

Along with tech solutions, the panel also offered a non-tech answer to decrease email fatigue: Tepper suggested lawyers and staffers verbally ask a question instead of emailing a concern.

She described a weekly “Walk-about Wednesday” rule where her Arizona State Bar department’s lawyers and staffers would walk to someone’s desk and ask a question instead of emailing them. “Walk-about Wednesday” eventually became a daily event, Tepper said.

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“It’s not an easy discussion because it’s changing how you interact . .

Roberta Tepper

If walking to someone’s desk isn’t practical, Tepper suggested calling someone instead. Similar to speaking face-to-face, phone calls can be less stressful than sending emails where wording can be misconstrued or the communication ignored.

Kicking the habit of emailing first, when the person sits 30 feet away, can be difficult because of the normalcy of emailing in the workplace, the panelists agreed. However, it may be more difficult for younger lawyers and staffers. But with consistent, ongoing coaching, that pattern can be broken.

“This is a training issue, but with younger attorneys everything is a text or email,” Tepper said. “It’s not an easy discussion because it’s changing how you interact and that comfort level of not having that face-to-face. You just have to sit down and say, ‘It occurs to me that it’s a very stressful environment to have all these emails to serve our members, and so here is what we are going to do for now on.’”

Still, phone calls can also be overwhelming, specifically when a client is calling at late or early hours. The panelists suggested only allowing clients to call a phone number associated with a Google Voice, Sideline or other similar phone platforms to prevent immediate phone access at inappropriate hours.

If a client prefers to text, the lawyer should also define appropriate times for texting. While ZipWhip, MyCase and other platforms capture texts securely with integrations into practice management systems, Tepper and Downs stressed setting scheduled time frames for client texting.

While there are platforms and approaches to alleviate various work stresses, Downs encouraged executive-level staff to discuss the topic. Such discussions allow lawyers and staff to not feel ashamed about truthfully discussing their work pain points.

“When we are talking about well-being, it is this whole work-life interaction, there’s no balance there,” Downs said. “There’s something out of whack, and we need to put it back in healthy ways.” 

Author Bio

Victoria Hudgins

Victoria Hudgins is a reporter for Legaltech News, where I cover national and international cyber regulations and legal tech innovations and developments.

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