Once lauded as a panacea to snail mail, the drawbacks of email are now filling inboxes.
Many of you in the profession whom like me can remember life before emails will no doubt recall the exhilaration we all felt when we discovered for the first time that we no longer had to wait for instructions or to negotiate a deal by snail mail. It was as if we had been given a new lease of life. We could now at the touch of a button put the ball firmly and squarely back into the client’s court or the other side. If was as if some visionary had discovered that the bottleneck in getting transactions completed was because of the delay in getting the information to the lawyers – and the remedy was the magical e-mail.
Little did we realise how one day the tail would end up wagging the dog. If only we could have seen what was coming. If only we had consulted the Oracle of Delphi we would have known how this new form of communication would eventually become a stick to beat us with and finally fall out of favour because of fears of fraud.
If you talk to most lawyers now they have resigned themselves to their fate of having to wade through hundreds of emails each week, checking their account at weekends, and deliberating the dilemma of do I reply now or wait until I am back in the office on Monday. Those of us whom have tipped our toe in the weekend email water by replying have sent out a clear message that we are now joining the game of weekend communicating. Can you also imagine what our predecessors would have thought of returning from holiday to find 500 letters and a mass of documents on their desk? It would have been a case of turn off the lights, shut the door, because we have to take a few months to catch up on the paperwork!
While there is no doubt that emails have proven to be a very useful mode of communication, they have also in all probability by accident become the multi-headed Hydra. We all recall how they are used to impart to the world at large that we have specific knowledge of a matter merely because we were once ‘cc’ into an email chain.
We have also witnessed the addictive effect of the email. We all have experienced that moment when a new square visualises on our screens to announce the arrival of a new message. We jump to respond, sidelining the client whom has mistakenly chosen to use the old traditional method of writing a letter, even if we are in the middle of replying to that letter. You need to display Herculean strengths of self-discipline to ignore the crescendo of daily emails in order to stay focused. In years to come, there may be an organsiation for email addicts like alcoholics anonymous. ‘Hi I was going to attend in person but I decided to send an e-mail instead.’
Emails have now started to fall out of fashion. No longer do we enthusiastically reply to every email as we once did during the honeymoon period. I now find that I can often get a better response by picking up the telephone and engaging in the ancient art of verbal communication. There is also the perplexing problem of how to manage client’s expectation. Some firms now state that they treat emails like letters in terms of a chronology for answering them. How ironic that we should now go full circle and seek to pay homage to the very mode of communication that we were all so happy to abandon and replace. Instantaneous communication is no doubt here to stay and while it has undoubted benefits, it is worth pausing for a moment and pondering on the email and the life-changing impact that it has had on our daily working lives. Has it become a necessarily evil?
The views expressed here at my own and do not represent those of my firm.
Chris Burgess is an associate at Hansells Solicitors and Financial Advisers