Ah. Email. The greatest invention for lawyers. Ping and you can exchange positions statements at 2am .
Ping and you can get that 150 page expert’s report on your phone to read while you’re on the train eating the breakfast you didn’t have time for at home. Multi tasking. Using your time effectively. It’s what a busy practice is all about.
Ping and you can look an irate judge in the eye and smugly say, ‘Your honour/ My lord the skeleton argument was sent. I emailed it myself at 4am . I have a ‘sent’ record here. So, there!
The speed, the ability to be accessible 24/7 that email allows. It’s fabulous.
Except it isn’t.
If you’re exchanging documents in the early hours of the morning, you’re not using your time effectively. Night-time is sleep time. It’s when you’re supposed to rest and recuperate from the day that has passed and rejuvenate for the one ahead. Sleep is essential for maintaining normal levels of cognitive skills such as speech, memory,
innovative and flexible thinking. All vital assets for a lawyer. Sustained sleep deprivation also has a significant impact on emotional and physical health. To be an effective lawyer neither of these should be compromised because if they are, this will invariably compromise the quality of your work.
In short, the wonderful invention that is email can be misused in our family practices. It allows each of us, counsel, solicitors, experts, social workers, guardians, to leave what needs to be done early until the last minute. Not because we are lazy or incompetent but because we are all under tremendous pressure, snowed under with cases requiring our urgent attention and not enough hours in the day to deal with it all.
So, we rely on the quick ping. Just click on that magical word ‘send’ any time of the day or night and our part of the job is done.
Trouble is, for every send there is a receive. Someone has to receive that 11th hour email and work on it.
I have yet to meet an advocate who likes the nightmare of drafting an order via the round robin email.(Usually an order already ‘agreed’ at court). It takes on average a week to get every comma right to everyone’s satisfaction.
How good for your eyes can reading a late 80 page report on your iPhone be?
And show me a counsel who likes the ’email brief’ and I will show you a masochist.
Not ‘brief’ as in the short instructions but the 1,500 page bundle sent via email.
I recently tweeted : #ThingsCounselNeverSay -Please send me the bundle via 20 emails, each with 10 embedded emails, in no order, at 6pm the night before the hearing.
It proved hugely popular with lawyers from both sides of the profession. When one counsel suggested it was ‘biting the hand that feeds us,’ he was politely but firmly told there was a real problem and it needed to be aired.
Here’s the complaint: After a full day in court you return to chambers at 6 or 7pm to find tomorrow’s case ‘on email’. This means printing 100s, even 1000s of pages from countless emails with numerous attachments. Then putting the papers in order. This will take at least two hours. 8pm.
You invariably have to draft a position statement/case summary/threshold/CMO or all 4. Minimum of another 2 hours. 10pm
At some point you have to go home (at least another hour) eat something and have some semblance of ‘family time’. All this before you can actually read the papers and properly prepare your case. (Midnight).
One counsel told me: ‘Your evening then becomes one of impossible choices – sleep, childcare, personal relationship or case prep? Sleep invariably goes first. Personal relationship next. Then it’s either neglect your own child or try and wing it the next
morning for someone else’s child.’
A former solicitor, now at the Bar has been horrified by the frequency of late instructions. ‘I cannot just inhale the contents of a huge bundle at midnight. I cannot prep at 3am and be on top of my game by 9am. We have to cultivate a culture of this being unacceptable. There should be a cut off point, say 48 hours before the hearing after which bundles are not accepted via email. 95% of email bundles are old papers
from months ago anyway which could easily be sent early sent via DX. Only updating documents need to be via email.’
I’ve spoken to almost 100 counsel recently and the grievance is the same – the time wasted printing and putting bundles together is time that should and could be spent on the case itself.
It’s an important issue too because a pupil supervisor told me that he has seen talented young lawyers leave the Family Bar because they came in expecting to work on cases but ended up spending their evenings and weekends printing and making up hefty bundles. With little to no time to prepare properly they lurched from one case to another unable to do their best. This sapped their confidence and they
wondered if the meagre financial reward was worth the stress. They decided it wasn’t.
Social workers and children’s guardians are equally overwhelmed. Several have told me that in the past they were allocated as many cases as they have now but somehow felt less bogged down. ‘It’s the paperwork that has increased tenfold,’ said one. ‘ It takes you away from actual social work.’
‘And the endless emails,’ chimed in another. ‘There’s this assumption that any time of the day or night you are not only available but have that particular case in mind on tap. It’s self generating extra work. Often the emails are people’s first thoughts not their considered ones so it’s constant chatter not real discussion. It’s exhausting.’
There is no easy solution to any of the above but perhaps we should all think before we ping.
And if you have any other solutions, er, drop me an email!