If you are a lawyer, or for that matter any other professional, technology has forever altered the way in which you work. It has created efficiencies, shortcuts, and for those who thrive on new gadgets, frankly it has made work at least a little bit more fun. But not everyone has embraced this constant change with the same measure of delight. And regardless of how much you may have benefited from new efficiencies, technology isn’t the answer in all situations in which communication is essential. But where you sit on the spectrum from early technology adopter to ongoing avoider may have a significant impact on how you feel about the power of technology to improve your practice and your career, and how you interact with others who reside at different places on the technology spectrum.
EARLY AND LATE ADOPTERS
If you find yourself calendaring the Apple update announcements or trolling the blogs for mention of new products and resources, you probably fall within the early adopter category. You would probably never imagine attending a meeting with a pad and paper, and you ditched your landline some time ago. You may view other lawyers in your office as dinosaurs and cannot imagine why all of the courts in your area haven’t yet adopted online filing.
On the other end of the spectrum, you may approach technology believing that if we have always been able to write with a pen and paper, we still can. While this is true, efficiencies are another matter. And while you may not know enough about technology to use it efficiently, there was probably a time when you didn’t know very much about the law, either. Taking advantage of the available tools can help you be more responsive and available. What may matter more is making decisions about how you want to communicate in a variety of situations, and why.
EMOTIONS FACTOR IN
While all of the tools of the trade allow us to communicate almost anywhere and anytime, they may also cause us to miss many of the cues that come from in-person communication. Albert Mehrabian, a psychologist who studies nonverbal communication, said that when a person is discussing feelings and attitudes, only 7 percent of the perceived message is about the actual words we use. If this is the case, there are many things going on behind the alphabet that must be addressed in the workplace with our peers, supervisors and clients. The rest—tone of voice, volume, facial expression and body language—can’t be ascertained in technologically driven communications. In rapid-fire and online communication, there are many opportunities to miss the emotions that are often close to the surface of the communication. And if we are truly candid, sometimes we use technology as a rationale for avoiding the emotional content often inherent in the work that we do.
One of the perils of the speed of technology is the tendency to fire off a response as soon as you are contacted, whether by email, cell phone or text, or by initiating a tweet. While you may know the answer or response that you want to give to a question or comment, it may not behoove you to respond immediately. And while you may want to signal availability to a client or colleague, sometimes questions require thought—something that is often missing in our desire to respond as soon as we are contacted. If you believe measured thought is required, use technology to let the recipient know that his or her concern requires reflection and that you will respond after thinking through the available options.
EFFICIENCY ISN’T ALWAYS BEST
One of the major issues relating to the use of technology is trying to differentiate between when it is best to go modern and when it is more effective to be old school. Technology tools sometimes give a false impression about what is really going on and how likely you are to be successful based upon which process you use. For example, many young lawyers (and other people seeking to change jobs) believe that the best way to job-search is by visiting websites and submitting online applications. Nothing could be further from the truth. In a tight job market, employers are much more likely to sort through old-fashioned referrals and recommendations in what could perhaps be perceived as inefficient processes. That doesn’t mean that your technology skills aren’t useful in the job search process; it just means that a passive technological response to looking for work isn’t your best strategy. Having a robust LinkedIn profile and connecting to people and organizations through that technology tool is a good thing to do, but it isn’t the “way” to employment or career change. If you are looking for a first job, a change in practice area or a geographic shift, while you may want to sort out your contacts by using technology, nothing beats in-person contact for getting information, picking up cues about how you are coming across or making a good first impression. If someone feels that they know you, they are much more likely to want to go out of their way to act on your behalf, and that is often difficult without face-to-face contact.
The same could be said for in-office communication and communicating with clients. When thinking about communicating with peers, it may be more efficient to send an email, but that does not mean that the outcome wouldn’t be better if you walked down the hall and had a brief face-to-face conversation. Clients, hungry for contact with their lawyer that doesn’t include a bill, would probably be thrilled for you to make an in-person visit that would help you better understand their business. While in the short term, it might seem more efficient to simply send an email or read a company report, there is no long-term substitute for investing in face-to-face meetings on site with someone whose work you want to retain or expand.
When there is difficult or critical information to disseminate in the office, while you may want to follow up with written content, a face-to-face meeting is often the best way to deliver it. The same applies to any good, bad or important news. Any communication has two parts: the message sent and the message received. While technology allows you to control a lot about the message sent, namely, the time, place and content, it has significantly less impact on when and how your message is received. So early or late adopter, before you deliver the content, make sure you have thought about the best method for conveying your message.