Tuesday, June 18, 2019

How picking up the phone has saved me.

I have a new thing: I call people when they send me angry emails at work instead of replying to the email. Truly, for me, the most exhausting part of being a lawyer is the constant contention, which, by the way, is totally unnecessary.

The best lawyers I know are not jerks. Period. They don't yell. They aren't rude to opposing counsel. They don't snap at people. They don't send long aggressive threatening emails.

They don't have to do those things because they are smart and effective without turning into the worst versions of themselves. Whenever I hear people brag that they hired an "aggressive attorney who scares people" I immediately think, "yeah, and he probably sucks and over-bills you." (Yes, it's always a he.)

I'm letting you in on this little secret because I like you guys. I've seen a lot of lawsuits in the last decade. Most of them go on much longer than they should because the attorneys are jerks to each other. They are jerks to each other who fight tooth and nail over everything. So their clients end up paying thousands of dollars just so two complete jackasses with monster egos can file long angry motions and responses over some meaningless thing they should have just compromised on, like a short deadline extension or providing some document that is clearly relevant to the case.

The clients don't benefit. They sit there, smugly, happy that their attorney is yelling at someone on their behalf, totally unaware that they are paying an astronomically-unnecessary amount of money for this service that is most definitely delaying a resolution of their case.

I have had clients get annoyed with me because I'm not yelling at anyone. I've literally had to say to multiple clients, "if you want to pay someone to feel angry with you, I'm not your guy. If you want someone to efficiently protect your legal interests, I am. And I'm not going to do it by being mean to someone you think wronged you."

In 2016 I ended up in something of a real life nightmare where I was dealing on a daily basis with one of the most unbearably monstrous and unreasonable people I've ever met in my life. He was a crappy lawyer, too. He billed his client hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting a case that could have been settled for much less than that (it ultimately was). A competent lawyer would have looked over the situation at the beginning and worked out a reasonable compromise that would have avoided making everyone spend years in a stupid fight that he knew was going to cost more money than it was worth.

Anyway, I was receiving long angry emails and screaming voicemails on a nearly daily basis from this guy, and partly because of this person, I ended up legitimately having a work-induced nervous breakdown.

It was hell. I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I tell you that I nearly sold my house, quit being a lawyer, and drove off into the sunset to get a job as a barista in some beach town somewhere.

Not hyperbole. Not kidding. I literally almost did that.

The only thing that stopped me from doing that was Skylar moved to Salt Lake City and essentially forced me to take a month off. Looking back, I'm honestly amazed that it all worked out the way it did.

By the time I showed back up in my office, I had calmed down, reassessed some priorities, set some boundaries for my job, and forced myself to check back in on a regular basis to make sure things never get as bad as they got in 2016.

It was during one of my recent check ins that I decided my new thing is calling people when they send me angry emails, and let me tell you, this has been a wonderful thing in my life. Because, y'all, jerks get super embarrassed about their angry email when you call them to talk about it in a polite voice.

A few months ago I woke up to an email from an attorney actually calling me names because he disagreed with me on something that truly did not matter. I had never met him. But his phone number was in the email, so I clicked on it. Seconds later he answered and I introduced myself and said, sincerely, "I thought I should call because I've obviously ticked you off and I don't ever want to be the cause of someone's day getting ruined."

He was silent for like 10 seconds, and then he was weirdly apologetic and admitted that maybe he could have worded his email to me "more thoughtfully," and by the end of the call we actually had nice rapport.

I know this probably all sounds so stupid and simple, but I'm not kidding you. This has cut so much of the meaningless contention out of my life. I think it has actually saved me a little.

I was bragging to Skylar recently about what a genius I am for doing this and Skylar was like, "yeah, I taught you that."

I was taken aback, because I don't like to give him credit for my genius. But then he reminded me that he made a rule for us a few years ago that we were never allowed to broach any serious conversations with one another via text, and that if we were ever annoyed or mad for any reason, we were to pick up the phone and call rather than type out a message.

Before that rule, one of us would be like, "hey, are you running late?" and the other would respond "WHY ARE YOU ON MY CASE ALL THE TIME" and the first person would be like "I WILL MURDER YOU AND BUILD A THRONE FROM YOUR BONES."

But after the rule, the first person would just call and be like "are you almost here" and the second person would be like "I AM SO SORRY I AM COMING" and the first person would be like "DON'T SPEED I LOVE YOU YOU ARE MY DRAGON SLAYER."

See the difference? All because of a phone call. For some reason it's so much easier to be reasonable when you're not communicating via Facebook or Youtube comments or text messages or emails.

It's almost like seeing a person's face and/or hearing their voice makes you realize they are, well, a person. One who probably really doesn't mean any harm.

It's become popular to hate talking on the phone. There's a whole thing right now about how kids aren't learning phone etiquette because they rarely have to actually use it to speak to anyone. And I get it. I will be one of the first people to go stand in the "talking on the phone is terrible" line. I implicitly groan every time my phone starts ringing.

Texting is easier.

Emailing is easier.

But I really think the trade off may not be worth it. At least not all the time. I think sometimes we are better off just picking up the phone and saying, "hey, can we talk about this for a minute?"

Seriously. Try it. Pick up the phone and see if it saves you, too.

~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. This is really great advice, thanks for this.

    One of my law school professors said that an average lawyer will fight and win. A good lawyer will find a way to stop the fight. And an excellent lawyer will see to it that there is nothing to fight about in the first place. I like that, too.

  2. Some excellent points there. Many times the tone of an email is misinterpreted. Always better to talk to somebody live. Much more personal. As a culture we definitely have gotten away from personal interaction. We hide behind our written words instead of our spoken ones. It’s seems there is less risk and accountability in what we write in texts, emails as opposed to a personal conversation. Maybe this is why our country is so divided. Hope this makes sense and is not just rambling. Dad

  3. Hubs and I decided years ago to only discuss important things in person or on the phone. Texts can be so snarky and impersonal.

  4. I got into mediation because I can't stand the contentiousness of litigation and a lot of lawyering. I still end up having to deal with people who don't understand that simple, honest communication is a much better way to get what you want than grandstanding, cutting remarks, self-centered rants, or cutting off all methods of communication. And it's endlessly frustrating when someone works themselves into a frothing frenzy planning out a phone call or an email, for DAYS, never end up actually sending something, and then marvel when the lack of communication blows up in their face. Like...you just spent a literal WEEK in anxiety hell, living and re-living the nightmare of how this could go badly, then you didn't do anything to actually help the situation, and you're surprised that it spiraled out of control? OMG OPEN YOUR EYES.

    I'm in love with the books by the Arbinger Institute, The Anatomy of Peace and Leadership and Self Deception. They talk a lot about seeing people as people, and give concrete methods to accomplish that when all you want to do is put them in a nice, tidy, labeled box. People don't naturally fit in nice, tidy, labeled boxes. People are messy. And complicated. And generally are better than whatever box you want to put them in.

    1. Thanks for the book recommendations - I've added them to my reading list

  5. A) This is great advice. As an individual with a degree in organizational communications - I wholeheartedly endorse this advice.

    2) I have a really hard time following this advice. I'm old enough to remember as an adult when email and texting wasn't a possibility and I hated talking on the phone then. When I was a teenager I didn't spend hours on the phone - I spent hours with my nose in a book pretending people didn't actually exist. I hated talking to people before hating to talking to people was cool. This is my deal - I am an overly emotional person. Shhh - don't tell anyone that - but it's true. My emotion overcomes me and I don't end up being polite when I talk to an actual person - I end up being walked over because my brain doesn't connect with the points I should be making or that I should be advocating for myself or whomever I am representing (i.e., my son - he's the only person I ever represent).

    III) So I'm trying to marry this advice that you're giving and that I endorse with my emotional introversion and trying to find a reasonable compromise. Part of the key to your success with this is your ability to remain polite when talking to the person. I try hard and I'm improving but there are people I just can't hold it together with and it's better for me to send an email because I WILL say something I regret and can't take back if I talk to them in person (I write a lot of emails I never send - the key to this is not filling in the "to" line so you don't send it on accident). For those I can be polite with - I write down my main points before talking to them. Then I have a better hold on what it is I want to say and how might be the best way to say it.

    D) I bet the person you're talking to on the phone is just so wowed by your great hair that they forgot why they're being mean.

    1. Nicole, I'm with you on the emotion feeling like a volcano/tidal wave/atomic bomb because I have bottled up my emotions for so long. Consequently, I am trying very hard to let out my emotions in controlled situations, like they do with dams, but I by no means have mastered this method. My fear of how I will be perceived during these supposed-to-be-controlled emotional floods prevents me even more from opening up to the necessary parties. For example, last year I was meeting with a new dept director to discuss my responsibilities. I was excited for the meeting because I had taken on SOOO MANY projects from my supervisors after they had quit/resigned for which I felt completely inadequate. But at some point in the conversation, the overwhelmed feeling that I had became too much to bear and I was sobbing/convulsing in my office in front of the new director. He and I never really talked about that experience afterward (which I regret) because now I think that he thought I was weak/insufficiently trained/not worthy of my job.

      Anyway, I use Brene Brown's books as my reminders that its okay to be vulnerable, "The Highly Sensitive Person" to rewire my brain that my sensitivity is not something to be ashamed of, and currently reading "Rage Becomes Her" (Isn't that a great title?). I'll definitely try to call people more instead of sending angry/contentious emails. Maybe that will be the next step to making in person confrontations easier.

    2. Thanks for the book recommendations!

    3. I always cry. I try not to, I practice in my head, but then I always cry.

      I hate it! I know it makes me look weak, I can't seem to not cry.

  6. I recently had an interview for a paralegal position at a law firm. I was in the conference room with the HR person, a partner and this one associate who thought that she needed to make sure that everyone in the room realized how intelligent she was (in her mind). She wanted to "take me down" and do so in such a way that made me realize, "Nope, I do NOT want to work here and have to deal with people like this." It is so incredibly true that great lawyers are not loud-mouth-take-no-prisoners-type people. It made me decide that I don't want to return a law firm and that atmosphere. And that is quite a sad statement after working as a paralegal for 16 years.

  7. My exhusband loved picking fights via text and I would try to call him to sort things out and he wouldn't pick up, then I would text him to ask if we could talk about it in person and he would ignore my request and continue to send angry texts about things that didn't matter. Yelling and silent treatment don't accomplish anything, they only delay the solution. To this day I still have anxiety when I get text messages.

  8. Thank you for sharing the genius you and Skylar have created. If I ever need a lawyer, I'll look for a kind and reasonable one.

  9. What's your phone number? I need to it call you and tell you that I think that this is...wait, I can't type that. I have to tell you.

  10. "Truly, for me, the most exhausting part of being a lawyer is the constant contention, which, by the way, is totally unnecessary."


    I work at a law firm on the admin side - the constant contention is starting to get to me. Reading this really helped, thank you.

  11. I completely agree and should do it more. My only thing is that I prefer email in that it creates a record of what happened. I've had situations that everything happened on the phone and I have no verification/proof of what the exchange was.

    1. Totally. I think a follow-up email summarizing the call is important. And email is necessary very often, but when it comes to contention, I like to resolve it in person or one the phone.

    2. Amanda I have a coworker who I HAVE to communicate with in email or nothing I request gets done and all I get from her was "No one ever told me" even though I told her multiple times. So I started emailing every important interaction. She literally cried because she thought I hated her. Our boss had to explain that having a paper trail is a good thing and that she should use email more. Now she is the most passive aggressive emailer you've ever met and she makes my work life hell...still. Sometimes you can't win no matter what you do, so at least CYA.

  12. There are a few people at my workplace who are incredibly difficult to deal with. I often write ranting emails but I don't send them. As someone else suggested, I don't put anyone into the "to" box so they never get sent by mistake. I write them to feel better and it works very well. Some of these people only want to deal with things over the phone and I've learned it's because they can then deny the conversation so now I summarize the conversation and send an email that says "can you confirm that this email summarizes our phone conversation?". Even if they won't respond I have a paper trail if/when they deny/try to spin things. This has made things much better at work.

  13. I spent a year working as a liability claims adjuster for an insurance company. I knew the laws well, and I knew my customers’ rights. I spoke with lawyers often who tried to bully and intimidate me into accepting liability in complicated accidents. But that’s all they had: intimidation tactics. They never had an actual case, they just thought their status as a lawyer would scare me.

    I still work with lawyers often, only now I’m reviewing ad copy with my company’s lawyers so it’s always a much more laidback conversation.