Last week, one of the email groups I belong to started discussing the use of a cell phone vs. a landline or other telephone system for their office. Grant Griffiths of Home Office Lawyer posted about the conversation and his views on using a cell phone vs. land line, and a number of others (including me) joined the conversation and commented.
Granted, the conversation involved a group of solo attorneys, and this specific issue might not arise in a law firm setting per se. But the conversation branched off into questions of how available lawyers could or should be to their clients. As one listmember noted, we are in a service business. While I agree, I don't think lawyers (or anyone else, for that matter) are slaves, nor do I think they need to be available 24/7. One of my concerns with using a cell phone as an office phone is that once clients know they have your cell phone number, they expect that they can reach you anytime, anywhere, regardless of whether their call is urgent.
Some of these problems may be resolved with a little 'education' of the client at the outset: setting expectations and limits for the use of your cell phone number, reminding clients that when you're working on their matter they wouldn't want you to be interrupted constantly by others' calls, and requesting that they respect your policy for that reason. But this won't resolve all of the problems, and once your cell number is 'out there,' (particularly if it's your only office number and is on your business card) it's tough to retain any privacy. Even if you don't advertise that your business number is your cell phone, chances are that clients will figure it out eventually.
There are certainly ways to ensure that you don't miss an important client call without giving out your cell phone number. If you've got a secretary or assistant, you can let them know the circumstances under which you can be disturbed, and they can contact you rather than giving out your cell phone number. You can frequently check your voice mail and return any calls remotely if they are urgent or important.
The inherent advantage of a cell phone - that you can be in touch wherever you are, whenever you want - is also its inherent disadvantage. Lawyers need downtime, and too many lawyers are already overworked and don't take advantage of 'time off.' Although a ringing cell phone could certainly be ignored, or the phone could be turned off, there are many situations in which these 'solutions' aren't practical. If you're out in a social situation, or even just relaxng, you may be perfectly happy to take a personal call on your cell phone, but it might be an inappropriate time to take a business call. It's tough to tell the difference on a cell phone that's used for both purposes.
Finally, as I discussed in an earlier post about tips for handling the telephone, sometimes taking calls in order to be more available actually hurts the client if you're distracted or otherwise engaged in another activity. Multitasking in this way often creates more work, and hinders the progress of both your original activity and your communication with your client. Checking messages remotely when you have time to pay attention and respond is often a more efficient and effective solution.
The bottom line? Take care when giving out your cell phone number. Consider how available you want to be and the advantages and disadvantages for yourself and your clients.