Strenski: Don’t underestimate the power of human interactions in law

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There is a United Airlines television commercial from the early 1990s that has always resonated with me. In it, a company executive explains to his personnel that they lost a customer of 20 years because that customer felt as if he did not know the company anymore. The executive then hands out plane tickets to each of the personnel with instructions to personally visit each of the company’s customers while the company executive will fly to the client whom the company just lost. More recently, in an episode of “The Office,” Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute set off with a load of gift baskets to try to woo back clients whom they had recently lost (they were unsuccessful and ended up driving their car into a lake). The premise in both situations is the same: There is real business value in human interaction.

The COVID pandemic put the brakes on human interaction. It affected all aspects of life, including the practice of law. There seemed to be a two-month period in 2020 where no one had any idea what to do and how to move forward in isolation. Then, with the help of Zoom, Webex and Teams, life (and the practice of law) seemed to move forward. Hearings were held, depositions were taken and even trials took place remotely. All the while, the lack of human interaction affected all of us. One of the things that people missed most during the period of isolation were hugs, and we found out that a hug has real power. (See: Susannah Walker, “The science of hugging, and why we are missing it so much during the pandemic,” The Guardian, April 14, 2021.)

The pandemic is now over. The two years of COVID seem like a blur — almost like our minds are trying to block out the experience. Yet we continue to use videoconferencing platforms in our daily practice. Don’t get me wrong: These platforms are very useful for some legal activities like routine status conferences, conferences with out-of-state clients and the like. They make our practices more efficient. But the use of these platforms must not come at the cost of human interaction. Take as many depositions in person as you can. One of the main reasons depositions are taken is to assess a witness’s credibility, and that can be difficult over Zoom. Try and attend as many hearings, especially bigger and more important ones, in person. You may not prevail on your summary judgment motion, but live hearings are a chance to meet opposing counsel and the judge. You might get some clue as to what the judge is thinking about your case, or you might end up talking to opposing counsel and gaining some insight into what the other side is thinking. Go see your client; I do this from time to time and have never thought it to be a waste of time or firm resources. Attend mediations in person; a face-to-face meeting with the opposing counsel or a meeting of the parties can be the key to resolving a case. Finally, go into the office. It is important that older attorneys go into the office to mentor younger attorneys, and younger attorneys cannot be mentored if they are working from home.

Videoconferencing platforms undoubtedly make the practice of law more efficient; we can squeeze more into a given day by using these platforms. They add a dimension that a simple phone call cannot deliver. But the use of these platforms can come at the cost of human interaction — and human interaction is extremely important not only in the practice of law, but in life in general. Don’t underestimate it.•


Jim Strenski is an attorney at Paganelli Law Group in Indianapolis and serves on the DTCI Board of Directors. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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