by Marsha Kazarosian

         Everything happens fast.  We cook fast, we eat fast, we travel fast, and we communicate fast.  Sometimes too fast.

               Sometimes it seems that the more sophisticated our methods of communication become, the less sophisticated we become about communicating.  Think about it. 

               With the demise of Motions Sessions went the daily arena that exercised our oral advocacy skills.  A majority of issues are now decided solely on the pleadings.    There are fewer trials and so the necessity of effective oral articulation has become less immediate, and perhaps a dying art form. 

               More law offices are following other businesses by relying upon automated answering and messaging systems.  It takes an act of God to reach a human being on the phone.   We actually talk to computers.   And our answers have to be limited to “Yes”, “No”, “Operator!”.  Not very articulate, to be sure.   And certainly not the way one would talk to a live person.

            In the days when letters were typed and copied with carbon paper, then sealed in an envelope and placed in a mailbox for delivery, there was time to take it back.  We had the luxury of the delay caused by snail mail because we were all on a level playing field.   There was time for words to be carefully chosen before the letter left the office because we were all at the mercy of the mail man.  And it seemed as if there was less of a need for retraction or correction because we could take the time to carefully dictate, revise, and redraft until that letter conveyed the appropriate tenor and nuance.  And, by the way, there was more often than not a highly skilled assistant who typed and reviewed it before it hit the mailbox…an invaluable second eye.  Communication used to be a more exacting, thoughtful process.  A lawyer’s stock and trade

               Now pleadings are filed electronically.  We don’t have the same camaraderie that was nurtured by going to the courthouse and talking to the clerks or the court officers.  We have FAX machines.  And with fax machines came routine immediacy.     ASAP has taken on a whole new meaning.  Boilerplate motions and letters are but a keystroke away, and communication gaps last only seconds.  We are no longer trained to slow it down and be thoughtful.  We are trained to speed it up and get it done, because if we don’t, someone else is gong to get it done faster.

               An angry reaction or a day of frustration can be fired off in a second, and few people have someone looking over their shoulder and advising them to slow it down and cool off.  Once that send button is hit, there is no turning back.  With snail mail, there was time to pick up the phone to retract an angrily sent letter before it was received.  Now everything happens in real time.   The safeguards of electronic infancy are gone, and the luxury of careful consideration has been eroded.    Because we now have less time to reconsider, we need to spend more time reconsidering.   No one talks anymore. 

               And as if things aren’t fast enough or faceless enough, we have the internet and emails and list servs where not only can we communicate one on one in real time, but we  communicate with hundreds or even thousands of people, real time.  It is one thing to fire off a letter to a person mano a mano, but now the “letters” and responses are witnessed by an entire list serv membership and everything is open to public view. And that makes it a whole new and potentially dangerous world if not tempered by restraint.  

              Few could argue the value of shared expertise on a list serv.  Today when there are less opportunities to speak face to face, the list serv provides a new kind of camaraderie.  To be sure, it also provides a forum for information, education, and even commiseration for the solo or small firm practitioners who would, without internet communications, have little chance for support.  It allows for informal mentoring, (hopefully done properly), and initiates friendship and empathy where there otherwise would be none.   But to be effective, it must be handled with care, and to be handled with care, our communication skills must be become more exact and articulate.   So in a way, the advancements in methods of communications require old school advocacy skills.  And that isn’t a bad thing.

             When you speak to someone face to face, facial expressions can enhance, or even change the tone of a conversation.  Tone of voice tempers or flares emotions, but the reactions are immediately recognizable.  The humanity of in-personal communication has a built-in safe guard of respect and courtesy because you see the whites of each other’s,   whereas a message typed on a computer, without a tone of voice, or a smile, or a wink, or a chuckle, can often be misunderstood.  It is easier to shoot first, ask questions later.  And that is unfortunate. 

             What is the solution?  Who knows……Increasing social opportunities for members of the bar, particularly plaintiff and defense, can only promote civility by putting faces behind the words.  If there is less interaction in the day-to-day practice, then we should create more interaction on other levels because we are human beings, albeit more office bound every day.  And human beings need interpersonal skills and other human beings, or our communications will become as automated and cold as the computers that facilitate them.   

Communication is changing.  And so our skills should be changing as well.  It is happening, and it is a learning process.  We are an evolving profession in many ways, but the need for continued socialization should not be dismissed.  And we should all take every opportunity to reach out personally to enhance our cyber opportunities, not only because it may be professionally advantageous, but because it is fun.









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