Work|Life Balance

Hooked on Blackberries

Here on Salt Spring Island it’s blackberry season. People are on the roadside picking berries and everyone is busy baking pies and cooking up jam for the long winter months ahead.  Today at the Lawyers Weekly a different kind of Blackberry is being served up – of the smartphone variety.

In the article “Smartphone etiquette: Where to draw the line?” writer Milton Kiang has asked lawyers to report in on their Blackberry usage – the results are just what you would expect from big law firm lawyers:

“Borden Ladner Gervais LLP corporate partner Martin Donner says that according to a legal survey he read several years ago, a lawyer’s availability is what clients value most. Donner says he checks his BlackBerry on evenings and weekends. I do it because I haven’t left the planet. If there’s something I can do to help out, I’ll do it. Clients’ needs aren’t confined to regular hours.

Milton interviewed me and asked me if I thought “Blackberries contributed to or detracted from work life balance” and I explained that Blackberries are simply a tool and it is up to the lawyer how they use it.

There are many different types of clients and legal practices and law firms. The choices you make about where you practice and the clients you serve will determine the degree to which you must rely on a Blackberrry.

Mitlon paraphrases me as follows:

“Wolf suggests that lawyers talk to their clients to find out how quickly they expect to receive e-mail responses. Lawyers should also explain how they run their practice, and talk about periods when they can’t be reached because, for instance, they’re spending time with family. Clients will appreciate it, says Wolf.

The above quote can be misunderstood. To clarify for the record, what I know for sure is that clients most value a lawyer’s investments in learning about client needs and expectations and in the corresponding delivery of a high quality of service. There are many clients for whom a high quality of legal service is determined by their lawyer’s responsiveness and attentiveness during daylight hours, not whether their email message is answered at 11 pm on a Saturday night.

One lawyer I know was reluctant to get a Blackberry for fear that it would encroach on his valuable personal time after work. What he learned was that he could use it to check on the status of projects while he was out of the office and that he needn’t in most cases respond to messages until the next morning.

The bottom line line is that Blackberries are a great tool. To make the best use of yours make sure to check in on client expectations and confer with your loved ones as well. Develop an approach that balances accessibility to clients and availability to loved ones at home.

In my household I simply don’t have a choice:  My Yellow Labrador Retriever just won’t play ball when I am on the phone.  If I take a call or start texting she just give me the look, drops the ball and it’s game over.

About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. I have helped countless clients over the past fifteen years, develop thriving legal practices and before that served as director of marketing for award-winning law firms. My specialty is uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding clients back and helping them acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal careers. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and now coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at or learn more about my coaching practice from the coaching section of the Attorney With A Life Website.