Back in the old days, before voice mail, call waiting, even before answering machines, people could use a little trick to let preferred callers reach them. If you didn’t want to appear to be at home, but were expecting someone to call, you could let that person give you a signal. The person would dial your number, let it ring once, then hang up. A few seconds later, the person would dial your number again. On your end, you heard the one ring, followed by a pause, and then the next set of rings. At that point, you knew it was safe to pick up the phone.
This was a great way to avoid the boss who might want you to come in, yet still let your friends get through so you could coordinate that day’s outing to the movie theater. For your friends, it was great. For your boss, not so much.
Today, I am amazed at the number of lawyers who use similar techniques to avoid contact from clients, attorneys, and others. Here are four excellent methods:
- Use an anti-spam system that requires a sender to “confirm” his or her email address. Yes, spam is a problem, but with today’s filtering tools it’s not nearly the problem it used to be. Our firm uses Google Apps for our email, so we have Google’s spam filtering that kills off just about every solicitation for V1@gra. On top of that, I use SaneBox, which filters my email messages further into categories that I can review later and puts important messages into my inbox. The message you send with these email confirmation systems is that you don’t trust the person contacting you, and you’re more than happy to make them jump over a small hurdle to get in contact with you. Imagine if you had to do something similar at a restaurant: before you can make a reservation over the phone, you physically go in and fill out a form with your contact information. If I ran into a restaurant like that, I’d go elsewhere.
- Put a broken email address on your web site. Perhaps you have a general contact email address, like “lawyers@DeweyCheathamHowe.com.” Make sure that email sent to that address bounces back as undeliverable. (I had that happen to me just this morning using an address on a firm’s web site. If it frustrated me as a mediator trying to send potential mediation dates, you can bet it will frustrate the client.)
- Don’t put individual attorney email addresses on your web site. Make potential clients, your fellow attorneys, and even court staff dig up the general contact address—and if it’s broken, even better!
- Don’t put your fax number on your web site. Yes, faxing things is so 1990s, but at times it is convenient. I use an online fax system so I can send a fax to one or one hundred people via a single web page. But if you don’t want to get my urgent correspondence—or if you don’t want your clients to be able to quickly fax you a document—then keep your fax number off your web site.
Since I’m feeling generous, here’s a bonus method.
- Don’t have a firm web site. Even in the year 2014, I am amazed at the number of law firms that don’t have web sites. Many of them do volume work, like collections or mortgage foreclosures. They may not have many potential clients looking for them via Google, but they probably do have opposing counsel, mediators, and court staff who would like to be able to locate contact information for individual attorneys. And, hey, if the firm moves, people can just wait until the new phone books come out in order to get the new contact information.
If you really don’t want people to be able to contact you, it’s your call. But no client has ever said that she recommends her attorney because he’s so hard to contact. No court clerk has ever said to the judge that a particular attorney is wonderful because she can’t be contacted except via snail mail. No colleague has ever referred a potential client to a lawyer because that lawyer’s web site had a broken email link.