How connected do you expect your lawyers to be?

I came across this post on Rob Hyndman’s blog this morning.  It’s title is “Online No One Can Hear You Scream” and that certainly got my attention.  He referred to an article on CNN that spoke about our increasingly connected world and how we have little tolerance for things that take a little longer than the almost instant response times we have become accustomed to online:

Time in the virtual world takes us away from time spent in the real world. Though studies are inconclusive and ongoing, some psychologists warn that too much virtual exposure can undercut face-to-face interaction, lead to depression and isolation, and erode our patience.

“We don’t have the tolerance any more to wait,” Rosen said. “Listening to people talk slowly or talk, period — we just can’t tolerate it.”

A recent Associated Press poll found that Americans start to feel impatient after 5 minutes on hold on the phone or 15 minutes in line.

Technology has brought us to a world where we have to have it when we want it, and we want to have it all simultaneously.

He then tied the post into Margaret Wente’s article titled “I dare you to try this: disconnect” on where she related a story that I fear is not unusual in large law firms these days:

I went to a great wedding last week. The bride was radiant. The speeches were witty. The dancing was fun. Everyone was having a good time, except for one guy at our table who looked miserable. He was restless and agitated, like someone dying for a smoke. Long before the cake was cut, he broke down, pulled out his BlackBerry and started thumbing. Perhaps he was firing off orders to unfortunate subordinates.

I haven’t yet seen someone break out the Blackberry during a funeral, but, on the other hand, nobody I know has died lately.

A friend has a job as a subordinate. His company is under new management, which immediately issued BlackBerrys to all senior personnel. The rule is, they must carry their BlackBerrys at all times, including weekends and vacations, and must answer all e-mail from the boss within 15 minutes. My friend has a fantasy of flushing his BlackBerry down the toilet, just as soon as he pays off his mortgage.

The need for this level of connectivity and for faster response times is due to a number of factors.  One of these factors is the rapid pace of technological growth.  Fifteen years ago the thought of being contactable anywhere was science fiction before mobile phones became widely available.  Even then we could only be reached on the phone or by sms until our phones became capable of picking up email and devices like the Blackberry became available.  Now we could be on the beach and still responding to emails and attending conference calls as if we were sitting behind a desk.

Another factor that contributes to this need are the expectations that arise out of this ability to connect anywhere, any time.  Clients have becomes accustomed to receiving responses to emails within a day or so and firms start to fear that if they do not respond immediately, clients will move on to someone who will.

The flipside of this is that people never really escape the office and have downtime.  It used to be the case that come 5 o’clock, you pack up your bag and go home and that is the end of your work day.  Now, we can take work home with us and work in the evenings or over weekends.  In some firms you are expected to go way beyond the cliched 9 to 5 working hours.  I was once told that a 12 hour work day was a decent day’s work.

I guess my question is what your expectations are as a client?  Do you expect rapid response times?  Do you need your lawyers to be available to you at any time or are you content to wait until tomorrow?

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