Legal professionals are usually very busy people as lawyers and staff often have numerous matters and issues to deal with that require their immediate attention. Due to overwork or an immediate problem that requires attention, it can sometimes be difficult for an attorney to perform the routine duties for which he or she is responsible. Too often, however, attorneys forget to send emails and phone calls back to other attorneys, which can lead to inefficiencies in handling a case. In certain cases, attorneys may deliberately refuse to respond to emails and phone calls from other attorneys, either because they do not have time to respond, or because they want to work on an issue on the matter before pursuing it. For a variety of reasons, attorneys should respond to emails and phone calls from other attorneys more frequently, both as a courtesy and in order to handle a matter as efficiently as possible.
The main reason lawyers often fail to return emails or phone calls is because they want to look up something or do something to fully accommodate a request underlying the phone call. It makes sense that an attorney would want to avoid the need for multiple messages until they have all the information they need to respond to another attorney. However, an attorney who did not receive a reply email or a call from another attorney could reasonably assume that an attorney did not receive a message. Indeed, lawyers handle a large number of files and sometimes messages fall through the cracks, especially when a lawyer is out of the office because of legal proceedings, testimony, or personal matters.
In situations like this, it almost always makes sense to reply to the other lawyer saying that you received the message and after a few steps, work on a longer answer. This will ensure that the other attorney knows that you got the message and that you have the matter under control. I regularly send such replies to opponents and lawyers of co-defendants and almost always receive a thank you in response because not enough lawyers express this courtesy. Writing a simple answer doesn’t take much time, and this can have a significant impact on building positive relationships with colleagues and moving a case forward.
Other times, lawyers typically don’t respond to emails or phone calls from other lawyers because they are inundated with work. Lawyers often have to review their cases, and sometimes they pay less attention to matters that do not require an immediate response than work that needs to be done at short notice. However, the longer a lawyer waits for an answer, the lower the likelihood that an answer will be delivered to a counterpart. Therefore, it is a good idea to reply as soon as possible, even if the response is so small that you just tell the other person that you have a matter under control so that the message does not fall through the grid of a representation.
Another time lawyers don’t want to respond to emails and phone calls is that they don’t want to record certain events. For example, if one opponent is emailing papers and the other attorney replies, it would be difficult for the receiving attorney to argue that they did not see what was sent if that attorney later wishes to deny that he is the Papers ever seen. However, this is clandestine behavior, and lawyers can handle such situations with dignity. If attorneys do not want to reply to an email for fear of a file, they can always call someone to officially discuss matters. As I mentioned in a previous article, picking up the phone to speak to opponents is often better anyway, and this offers an opponent the courtesy of an answer.
Lawyers can also refuse to return phone calls and emails to other lawyers if the lawyer relationship breaks down. The legal profession can be very contradictory at times, and it is not uncommon for bad blood to prevent lawyers from speaking to one another. Even if lawyers try to maintain cordiality when representing them, there is a risk that positions taken by a lawyer to represent the interests of a client impair the lawyer’s relationship with an opponent. However, lawyers must try to ensure that communication channels are as little affected as possible by friction during representation. This helps a lawyer provide the best representation possible and have the best chance of getting a positive outcome for a client.
All in all, lawyers are busy professionals, and too much work (and other reasons) can prevent lawyers from responding to calls or emails from other lawyers. However, to keep communications open and avoid inefficiencies, lawyers should send emails and phone calls back to other lawyers as often as possible.
Jordan Rothman is a partner at The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service law firm based in New York and New Jersey. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website that discusses how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan by email at email@example.com.