I read a good blog post on Lawyerist about communication skills for lawyers. The article highlights some “traditional” communication skills, like phone calls, snail mail, and face to face meetings, that lawyers sometimes forget or forsake in favor of e-mail or other social media communications.
This post struck a chord with me because communication challenges are one of the biggest issues I confront working with students and mentors in our program. There seems to be some disconnect between how students prefer to communicate and how mentors prefer to communicate. Students often seem to prefer e-mail while mentors often seem to prefer phone. This difference is hinted at in the comments to the original Lawyerist post.
I have already posted once about communications challenges so I do not want to simply repeat those points. The Lawyerist post and the comments gave me a new perspective on this issue and maybe a new way to think about it. I agree with the comment that some in the profession can be too dismissive of communication from social media or other new technology. I think that these tools do have a lot to offer and by extension, newer lawyers with greater proficiency with these tools have a lot to teach us. On the other hand, I also think that new lawyers can fall into the trap of convenience and become overly reliant on these technologies. Because social media and e-mail are convenient, newer lawyers lose their comfort with more direct interpersonal communication like phone or face to face meetings.
Not every communication requires the same tools, nor is every relationship the same. Perhaps lawyers should think of e-mail, social media and other technologies as supplements to traditional communications rather than replacements. We should be taking advantage of how social media and e-mail can improve the client relationship, mentor relationships, or other professional activities while acknowledging that those tools cannot replace the essential interpersonal communication skills lawyers must have. In other words, think of all your communications options as tools in a tool box and for each piece of communication think about which of the tools is the best fit, not necessarily the easiest to grab. If you don’t have the right tools for each job you are unlikely to do the job the well. As the old saying goes, “if all you have is a hammer than everything starts to look like a nail.” If you rely too heavily on e-mail and social media then you miss the chance for deeper and better relationships at a minimum and perhaps contribute to a decline in the relationship at the maximum.