About five years ago, my father-in-law (who my children affectionately call “Poppy”) got so fed up with his cell phone that he threw it into a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs that was sitting on the kitchen table. My children, who were young and impressionable at the time, thought this was one of the funniest things that they had ever seen. There are times when we all feel like throwing our cell phone into the spaghetti bowl – technology can be extremely frustrating. However, my observation is that people, and especially attorneys, steadfastly refuse to throw their cell phone into the spaghetti bowl, even when they should.
Cell phones, tablet devices, laptop computers and other forms of mobile technology are great things. They increase our productivity. They allow professionals, including attorneys, to multitask. They give us the freedom to work away from our offices. Gone are the days when attorneys had to be at their offices during regular business hours; we can now attend our children’s ball games while taking short conference calls or responding to email correspondence. In a family such as mine, where both my wife and I have full-time jobs, cell phones allow us to juggle our home and work responsibilities more effectively.
However, my observation has also been that the electronic devices we possess are “mixed use” devices. In addition to housing our work email, work calendar and work-related apps, these devices also have a number of “play” apps, including but not limited to video games, Internet capability and YouTube. Accordingly, the ability to access both work and play 24/7 is only a click away. It is unfortunate, but I often see attorneys, friends and strangers using their cell phones or other smart devices at times when it is absolutely inappropriate to do so.
I attended a seminar this past spring. It was a great event; the speakers were excellent, and the seminar was well attended by attorneys from all segments of our profession. I arrived at the seminar a little bit late and ended up sitting in the back of the auditorium, so I had a fairly good view of the attendees in the room as well as the speakers. The number of attendees who had either a cell phone or a tablet device was striking. What was also striking was the number of attorneys who were using their cell phones or tablets during the seminar presentation. It was also clear from what I could see on the screens that the use of these devices was not work related. I found it a little shocking and rather depressing that many of the attendees were using their smart devices at a time they should have been listening to the presentation. Moreover, I suspect that none of these attorneys discounted their ethics credit for the time spent using their cell phones or tablet devices during the seminar.
Another example of smart phone misuse or abuse can be vacation. Like many attorneys, I take my cell phone and tablet with me on vacation, mainly to clear emails while away. If I didn’t bring my smart devices, I would most likely spend my first day back at work going over hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of emails that had come in while I was away, most of which are inconsequential, insignificant or just plain spam. However, more often than not, I find myself handling some small aspect of some matter on vacation just because I saw it come in on my email. Before long, I find myself billing an hour or two each day of vacation on matters that – while not insignificant – could have certainly waited until I returned to the office. At some point, attorneys, myself included, have to ask themselves, “What’s the point of vacation if you’re just going to work during it anyway?”
Cell phones, tablet devices, laptop computers and related devices are great; they put work and indeed the world at our fingertips 24/7/365. However, there are times when we really shouldn’t be checking our email or playing solitaire. As members of a great profession, we need to recognize that there are times when we really do need to be like Poppy and throw our cell phone in the spaghetti bowl – if only for a while.•
Mr. Strenski is a partner in the Indianapolis firm of Cantrell Strenski & Mehringer and is a member of the DTCI board of directors. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.