The Dis-Associate

Put Down the Phone and Back Away Slowly

By | Jan.08.13 | Daily Dispatch, Law Practice Management, Legal Careers, New Lawyers, The Dis-Associate

The National Technology and Data Association (NTDA), a Virginia-based nonprofit focused on technology-related economics, combined with support from the Data Transfer Registrar (DTR), a governmental database logging national data transfer rates and formed via grants from the Congressional Data Mining House Subcommittee headed by Senator Peter Griffin of Massachusetts, recently completed a three-year study that found 88 percent of all lawyers under the age of 35 utilize smartphones during 92 percent of their workday, which occurs 60 percent of every total workweek, at a minimum. 

I Know What You Believe

To clarify, yes, I made up the NTDA, the DTR and the subcommittee. And Peter Griffin is the cartoon star of “Family Guy.” Oh, and the findings are bologna as well. Or are they?

We do not need the NTDA or the DTR to study an obvious issue: Young lawyers are tethered to their smartphones. During depositions, meetings, conference calls or at their desks, they stare at and obsess over their smartphones. Can you blame us? Texts! Words With Friends! And … wait for it … FACEBOOK! But, while these devices can be useful (e.g., emails), they can also create a great divide between young and more senior attorneys. Trust me, if you think those birds are angry, imagine your boss’s reaction after seeing you staring at an iPhone every time he walks by your office.

From the young lawyer’s perspective, of course, we have grown up multitasking. We, as humbly as I can state it, believe we can process an immense amount of information simultaneously. We can play a video game, finish a brief, text a friend, check Facebook and listen to music all at the same time. But I say “believe” because, in reality, we need much more focus than we know.

Also, most of us seem to lack an understanding of how we look while multitasking.Keep in mind that while you may think you are the master of multitasking, you are projecting an image of laziness and disrespect. Bosses and clients demand not just results, but also focus and an image of professionalism.

Therefore, I have a few tips for how to handle your smartphone during business:

  1. Switch. Either on the top or the side of your phone, there is an off switch. No, not the silent or vibration switch. Literally an off switch. The phone will turn off. Hit that button and turn off your phone. DO NOT WORRY. The same switch will work to turn the phone back on once you finish your work.
  2. Stow. Now that the phone is off, it is time to secure it in a safe location. No, no, no … not in your other hand. And not in your pocket. Place your phone in your briefcase, jacket pocket, purse or desk drawer. DO NOT WORRY. It is smart, but not smart enough to run away.
  3. Breathe. Breathe through the stress of not knowing if your friend has posted a picture, or if a funny text is waiting for your response. That stress will dissipate and turn into something called “focus.” DO NOT WORRY. The focus will not last forever. Once you complete your work and turn your phone back on, focus will diminish substantially.

I may not know what I’m talking about, but I think you understand.

William Melater is a young associate attorney working at a firm focused on commercial litigation and transactional work. A self-described legal hunter and gatherer, Bill has accumulated a plethora of legal certificates and diplomas—all of which have been appropriately framed and hung behind his desk. He has a distaste for emails, suspenders, fake tans, paralegals who cry, sea urchins and attorneys who repeat the phrase “this is my bottom-line offer.” When irked, he blogs about his experiences at Attorney at Work.

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3 Responses to “Put Down the Phone and Back Away Slowly”

  1. Jim Thompson
    8 January 2013 at 8:30 am #

    As one of those “old guys” I do get very upset and seeing the younger generation constantly looking at their cell phone. Not even using it just looking at it. Two thoughts I ahve seen lately well one thought and one device. The thought is that if you are at lunch or dinner with others put your cell phone in a pile and enjoy the conversation with those that you are with, not those that you feel might call you with something more important. Here is the kicker, the first one to pick up their phone during lunch or dinner or out for drinks picks up the tab. I recently saw a device and for lack of a better term a “Lock UP” for cell phones. In a meeting or whereever there is a group together everyone puts their cell phones into this device and the person holding the meeting has the key. No one gets to their phone until the key holder say so.

    Just my 2 cents

  2. Paul H. Burton
    8 January 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    It’s refreshing to see this conversation begin. What I mean is that the so-called generation gap tends to lean towards how can we, the more experienced generation, work better with the younger generation. My responses is more and more: Excuse me?

    The younger generation might, for example, more expertly wield the functionality of a mobile device, but they rarely know how to communicate better. It is the younger generation who must look up long enough to realize that the real world of practicing law is happening right in front of them. And it is that generation who must expertly wield their notes app to capture all the wisdom coursing around them. Failure to do so means a failure to learn and that bodes poorly in the successful practice of law arena.

    Oh, and I’m writing this on my iPad mini using the split keyboard feature while sitting in an airport terminal on my way to deliver a time management seminar at an AmLaw200 law firm. Message: even an old dog can learn new technology, but it took years of learning from others older than me to learn to communicate effectively.