I had a rather unique experience today. Sitting in in the drive thru lane at the local bank, my passenger door was flung open and in plopped a sinister figure. My immediate reaction was that I was being car jacked. My life flashed before me. My first car, the prom, the day I made the horrible decision to become an attorney....all passed instantaneously before my eyes. There was so much I still wanted to accomplish. I've never been skydiving. I've never been to Paris. I hadn't tried the new revamped Domino's Pizza.
My fear turned to that feeling you get when you see a parking ticket on your windshield or when you realize they messed up your order in the McDonald's drive thru. I soon realized my assailant was actually just a client with a question about obtaining a liquor permit for her new restaurant. Now, I have always made myself accessible to clients but this was too much. As attorneys, are we entitled to any privacy? Of course, it wasn't the worst I have experienced. Once in church, I was waiting in line for confession when I felt a tap on my shoulder. "Attorney Baron, I was arrested for drunk driving" whispered my fellow church goer. "Tell the priest your sins first." I answered. "But see me before you give to the collection plate."
I am sure many attorneys have had to juggle between their duty to communicate with clients and their wish to maintain a sane life. In my own personal experience, I have been approached at funerals, weddings, bachelor parties, in the grocery store, and at the beach. I remember one incident where I took my wife up to Cape Cod for the weekend. Sitting in a little out of the way dockside restaurant hours away from Connecticut, you could imagine my surprise when a boat pulled up driven by my client. "Hey Attorney Baron, what are you doing here? Can I talk to you a minute?..." The constant 24 hour access drives my wife crazy. "Are you a diner or a lawyer?" she quipped.
The issue of availability was recently approached by the Wisconsin Lawyer Magazine. In his article "Beware of Raising Client's Expectations of Your Availability", Attorney Thomas Watson reminds us that "just because technology makes it possible to communicate 24-7 doesn't mean you should be available 24-7." In the world of blackberries and email, more than ever it is easier to stay connected. But do you really want to be responding to client's at your kid's dance recital?
Of course I am guilty of not practicing what I preach. In response to client requests, our firm is experimenting with a 24 hour 1-800 emergency arrest line. I now carry an extra cell phone that is dedicated to this line. We call it the Bat Phone. Not surprisingly,some clients have used the line to get immediate access to me after hours with non emergency questions. I usually grant each client one free pass. Of course, I should have heeded the advice offered in Attorney Watson's article. "While a lawyer certainly owes a duty of diligence to a client, we do not owe turning over every hour of every day to the practice of law." It's Ok to be accessible to your clients. Just make sure to set limitations.