"I am an accountant who has been working with small businesses for over 30 years. I don't consider myself an 'old person,' and am actually quite fluent in today's digital technology (at least my kids tell me I am).
"As my clients retire and pass their businesses on to their own children, though, I find myself having more and more trouble with communications. The new generation wants to do everything by text message, and they demand instant responses to all questions.
"I'm all for being responsive to my clients' needs, but there are times when I can't respond to things in Internet time. Maybe I have to research or think about something before I answer. Maybe I have to make manual changes to someone's tax return that can't be made using the TurboTax template.
"I've had more than one client tell me that 'in this day and age' it isn't acceptable service not to respond to an e-mail or text message instantaneously. But is it acceptable service to respond in haste and risk committing malpractice? I don't want to have to choose between my professional responsibility and my professional reputation for good customer service."
Boy, do I feel this person's pain.
It's no secret that today's technology has sped up our lives to the point that many of us feel that things are spiraling out of control (and I'm not just talking about baby boom geezers in their 60s and 70s). Many of my clients think nothing of sending me a multipage text message with all sorts of interweaving problems and demanding a response within an hour.
Yet, to my knowledge (and I should know — I make it a point to attend the LegalTech trade show in New York City each year specifically to learn about new technology products for lawyers), there is no app, cloud-based solution or robot that will help me draft and review legal contracts faster without sacrificing accuracy. It takes me every bit as long to do that work as it did when I first started practicing 36 years ago.
It gets worse. While I'm drafting or reviewing a contract for one of my clients, time stands still. Every contract is unique — there is no such thing as a boilerplate contract for me to fill in the blanks and hand to a client as a finished product.
When I'm drafting contract language, I have to think not only about the paragraph I'm working on at the moment but also other conforming changes that need to be made elsewhere in the document so the change I'm making now works. I simply can't be interrupted by phone calls, text messages or anything that goes "beep boop bop" and disrupts my flow of thought. All that stuff has to wait until I finish the contract and come up for air.
While I can certainly work on multiple projects at the same time, at any given moment there can be only one priority, and I can't be rushed.
But try explaining that to a fast-talking multitasking millennial who grew up in a world where instant gratification is the norm. Many of these folks don't even think in complete sentences with a subject, verb and object. They speak in a form of shorthand in which clarity is sacrificed for speed to get the basic message across — that is, when they can be persuaded to speak at all.
I'm leery about putting some communications in email or text for fear they may come back to bite me — that is, if it turns out I jumped the gun, made some unwarranted assumptions or didn't ask the client all the right questions. There are times when I need to talk through an issue with a client and give him a quick curbside answer — one for which I don't want to be held accountable.
When I'm under too much pressure from a client for a quicker-than-natural turnaround, I sometimes resort to asking, "Would you rather have your answer quickly, or would you rather I get it right?" But there's a funny thing about millennials: They all love comic irony, except when it's directed at them.
So here's what I do in an era of unmanageable expectations.
Whenever clients are pressing me for time, I leave a voice message on their cellphone that says: "Thanks for your message. I am working on your matter and assure you that you are not being ignored, merely prioritized. I have a number of projects that are on very tight deadlines, but I can promise you will have your answer/document/whatever by (time) on (date). If you really need it sooner, please call and let me know, as that really helps me manage my time."
Then I move heaven and Earth to make sure I meet the self-imposed deadline.
Cliff Ennico ([email protected]) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series "Money Hunt." This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com.