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Why I Am Breaking Up With Email (And Why You Should, Too…)

I am through with email and the popular fallacy that an empty inbox in any way indicates a productive afternoon. I hope that I can persuade you that this is not a selfish or flippant decision. And if I lose clients as a result? I will have more time to walk my dog.

For context let me point out that my particular specialty, Family Law, was never really a great fit for email anyway. Unlike, say, Bankruptcy Law, Family Law is a messy and hyper-emotional practice reliant upon body language, tone of voice, some crotch-grabbing, and lots of screaming. None of these come across particularly well in the body of an email, and I theorize that many Family Law lawyers subconsciously prefer this arm’s-length discussion about their cases to save their exhausted nervous systems. After all, despite all popular opinion, Family Law attorneys are human beings, and like any sane human being, can only have so many extraordinarily uncomfortable conversations each day before they need a nap. If you meet with a person who cries for forty-five minutes in your office that is draining. If you speak with someone who screams for forty-five minutes on the phone that is unpleasant. Email is (was!) a buffer. Send and receive the information without much of the emotion. But, it turns out, it doesn’t work like that. Because when emotion is not properly communicated is is inferred.

And lately things have gotten worse. Take the following example.

Imagine Mayor McCheese is getting a divorce from The Arch Duchess her lady of Gorgonzola. Things are contested. They are worried about their daughter, Suzy Creamcheese, and the financial future of their Cheez-It empire. Mayor McCheese emails his attorney about a certain, innocuous item and after Attorney does some brief research he emails Mayor back. This takes, say, seven minutes. Then, Mayor McCheese has some questions, concerns, and clarifications about Attorney’s email response to his original emailed question and so McCheese replies back with TWO inquiries now, at least one of which has nothing to do with anything cheese-or-law-related. Attorney answers this email, too, and this all takes twenty-five minutes. Then, after reading Attorney’s longer reply email, McCheese replies again with eight more questions, one of which seems existential in nature (?) and another, Attorney thinks, is simply a poor drawing of a cat. Well at this point Attorney jumps out the window of his corner office and splat he becomes cheesecake.

In this way an afternoon is spent (and I would argue, wasted) on a never-ending relay of question and answer and cat coloring. Attorney is frustrated because he now has to stay late at work to prep his cases for tomorrow and Client Cheese is frustrated because the questions he had only led to more questions and those questions (such as is everything a simulation and why are we on Earth anyway) were not properly answered, at least to his liking. And worse, Mayor McCheese was BILLED FOR THIS BULLSHIT, the case has not progressed, and no real “work” has been done. Lovely.

I have to point out here that neither Mayor McCheese nor Attorney is to blame. Because this is just how human conversations develop. If Attorney and Client were at the office and talking about the case in person like human beings have for hundreds of thousands of years the conversation would naturally fragment, grow, develop in odd directions, escape into a pocket dimension, circle back, grow a tail, reorient ad move forward again. That is how we humans process information (especially under extraordinary stress). Email is to blame. It only becomes out fault it we continue to use it.

I am not doing this anymore. I spend my time as most attorneys do: I prepare to go to Court, I go to Court, I cry, and I meet new clients. And after 11 years of practicing Family Law I fail to see how endlessly answering emails has made a single client (or their child’s) life better.

(Almost) all email is junk mail. Let’s stop pretending and get back to work.

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