Volume 12, no. 2
Responding, With a Rant
By David J. Abeshouse
You need not answer all voicemail or email, but you must determine which ones require only minimal acknowledgement and which demand a full analytic reply. Some messages demand immediate attention while others permit the passage of hours or even days. One size does not fit all.
Short, automated, canned, or stock replies might suit some situations, but would be insulting in others. Lengthy explanations may be needed in certain complex circumstances, but might be annoyingly excessive elsewhere. Avoid “telephone tag” by providing substantive information when possible, and listen to the entire message before responding, so you know what information the caller seeks.
Some people are verbally-oriented and others are visually-oriented—so when is it appropriate to respond to voicemail by sending an email, and vice versa? It depends upon the individual who sent the message, how many people need to receive the response, the degree of specificity of the reply, whether electronic hyperlinks might be useful, and whether tone of voice is critical to proper understanding.
Counsel can harm their clients’ cases by failing to reply timely to emails and phone calls from opposing counsel. Business clients who have heard of my high level of responsiveness will hire me because they are frustrated and dissatisfied with their present counsel’s unresponsiveness, notwithstanding quality work product in other respects. This is one way to distinguish yourself from the multitudes.
Respond promptly: This will vary, but be sure you’re well within the realm of what’s considered reasonable. Although it’s generally most efficient to try to “touch each message only once,” if necessary, you can provide an initial quick response and promise a fuller reply later.
Seek clarity: Try to get your colleagues to express the level of urgency in messages sent to you, and do the same for them. (For example, specifying that there’s no rush; I need to hear from you within the hour; please confirm receipt ASAP and then get back to me by noon tomorrow; etc.) Also, let them know whether you expect to be unreachable for a period of time. Understand expectations.
Email etiquette: Be mindful to whom your email reply is directed (“Reply” vs. “Reply to All”), and don’t type messages in all capital letters—the electronic equivalent of shouting.
Recognize technology’s foibles: Voicemail messages you leave by cell phones may be inaudible, with no way for you to know that; email messages may not be checked for days by some recipients or may get caught in spam filters; similarly, if you have an assistant return messages for you, consider the impression that makes upon the recipient.
Bottom line: Follow the Golden Rule and respond to others’ messages as you would have them respond to yours.
BTW: I look forward to receiving an email from you by noon tomorrow.