With modern technology, the desire for in-person meetings was already decreasing in the practice of law. The pandemic kicked this progression into hyperdrive. As we re-open, one of the questions that remains to be answered is to what extent we’ll go back to meeting in person with the other humans. We can now work relatively seamlessly with our colleagues in other states and countries. But it also stops us from meeting in person with our colleagues right down the street. Should it?
I am a huge believer in saving time. I eschewed traveling to the office on a daily basis the minute I began working for myself. The time one saves by not putting on a suit and commuting to and from work every day is significant. It translates into real hours that could be spent working, exercising, or paying attention to your family. There are some tasks and meetings that simply don’t make sense to blow travel time on. We should not, however, look for excuses not to meet in person.
Younger generations may increasingly have different social norms, but each in-person meeting gives us a better opportunity to build relationships and/or persuade. For example, suppose you have a case two or three hours away. You could drive back and forth in a day but question if there’s the potential to make more from that experience. If you have a friend or colleague in the area, consider traveling and spending the evening. Meet people in that local legal community. Go out to dinner. Attend a CLE or bar event. Building those relationships and roots will benefit you in the future.
Meeting in person makes it more likely that you have one’s undivided attention. Yes, we’ve all seen colleagues reading their phone during in-person meetings. We should all try to stop doing that (other than during what has become the socially acceptable break in the action that permits such tasks). While Zoom has its benefits, the undivided attention of the person across the screen is often not one of them. The meeting is juggled with responding to texts, emails, and I suspect panda videos.
Personal interaction often deescalates tense intra- or interoffice situations. True intentions are far more likely to be misconstrued via written word. Taking our feet out of our mouths is often easier in person. Also, everyone has come across an attorney who is Johnny tough guy behind the computer, but the cowardly lion face-to-face. While less in-person requirements should exist in the law (i.e., forcing less people to miss work for alleged criminal offenses), dodging the opportunity for meaningful, personal meetings should not be part of your business strategy.