Question: How common is it for lawyers not to receive their clients’ calls or not to return calls? What are the reasons for this avoidance?
Answer: Inexcusably all too common.
I am a lawyer, and while I do not treat people this way, I get treated the same way.
Where I practice you routinely get in response to your call to your lawyer’s office the extremely (and intentionally) ambiguous: “He’s/she’s not available right now” (which is almost certainly not true). You were likely taught that in such a situation the courteous thing to do next is to ask to leave a message requesting a return call. So you leave a message with your name, date, time you called, and your number.
And you don’t get a call back. Ever.
So you call back, get told “he’s/she’s not available right now,” and leave another message. After that goes on three times or more, you realize that another approach is needed.
So you call your lawyer’s office back the fourth day, get “He’s/she’s not available right now,” (if the office has a marginally intelligent receptionist, he/she will get creative with the excuses and go from “not available” to “in a meeting,” “with a client,” “out of the office at the moment,” “in court,” “in mediation,” “sick child/spouse/parent,” etc. and then ask when he/she will be available.
An inexperienced gatekeeper (also known as a receptionist or secretary) may be tripped up by being asked “when?” and may actually go and try to find out when the lawyer is available. But all it takes is once for the poor gatekeeper to realize that is not the appropriate response (the gatekeeper will be roundly chastised for such a slip and never go the extra mile again).
No, the appropriate response from a skilled gatekeeper, when you ask when the lawyer will be available, is either “I don’t know” or the more sophisticated “Would you like his/her voice mail?”
Undaunted, you try this on day five: “Hello, I’ve been told my lawyer is not available. I’ve been told to leave messages, which I have done for the past three days without a return call. I have asked when my lawyer will be available and have been told nobody knows, and I don’t want to leave another voice mail, so please direct me to someone who does know when my lawyer will be available to take or return my call.”
You may even simply ask to schedule an appointment to meet or speak with the lawyer. Ha! Now you’ve got them cornered!
Of course not. You will then be told either that the only person who knows the lawyer’s schedule is the lawyer himself/herself or that the lawyer’s assistant who handles his/her calendar is—you guessed it—unavailable (at which point you now have two vicious circles going). Asking if anyone is available to help you will result either in a repeat of what you’ve already gone through or result in someone picking up the phone to tell you, “I don’t know what to tell you.”
Make no mistake: lawyers who don’t answer or return calls know exactly what they are doing. They aren’t stupid. They aren’t unable in any way to answer or return a call. They graduated from law school and passed the bar examination; they can answer and return calls. Their support staff members are instructed to brush off, and how to brush off, calls. And such a lawyer actually believes you’re not wise to his/her machinations.
Utah Family Law, LC | divorceutah.com | 801-466-9277