Wellness Wednesday: Set Communication Boundaries with Clients and Opposing Counsel.

I’ve presented several wellness CLEs over the past month. At each, I’ve highlighted the recommendations made by the Legal Employers Committee in the 2018 State Action plan issued by the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession.  Outlined on page 11 and presented in full beginning on page 68, the Committee’s recommendations provide fantastic and prescient tips for legal employers, both public and private, interested in improving well-being in the workplace.


Today, I post to focus on one of the tips. It’s one that’s drawn significant attention and support during wellness seminars.  The Committee recommended:

  • “Consider a policy that employees should not—apart from emergencies—check their work email during non-working hours. Moreover, employers should allow all legal professionals to set reasonable boundaries on responding to emails, for example, letting clients know that barring an emergency, they may not get an email response immediately, but the employee will respond within a certain period of time.”

All over Vermont, lawyers report the stress that comes from being constantly available. Given technology, many lawyers find themselves being contacted by clients and opposing counsel around the clock.  The sheer volume is often exacerbated by the lawyer’s sense that an immediate response is required.

It isn’t.

Yes, I understand that there will be emergency situations that demand a response.  But as the Committee recommended in 2018, legal employers should encourage and assist employees to set boundaries with clients and opposing counsel.  From an ethics perspective, Rule 1.4 does not require lawyers to be available on-demand, 24/7.  Rather, it requires lawyers to:

  • “keep clients reasonably informed about the status of the matter;” and,
  • “promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.”

Sometimes, each of the following is not only prompt and reasonable, but healthy:

  • Tomorrow morning.
  • After my kid’s game ends.
  • After I finish the lunch I’m eating.
  • After the weekend.
  • After I finish the letter I’m drafting for another client.

Last night, I found an informative post in the ABA Journal.  In Lawyers weigh in: Why is there a depression epidemic in the profession?, Dina Roth Port asked for insight from practicing attorneys. One response stood out to me:

  • “’I think technology has made the profession of law more anxiety- and depression-inducing. Emails, texts and cellphone calls—there is no escape. At night or early in the morning, your phone or PDA is beeping, dinging and ringing. Then on weekends, your clients are emailing or texting. To make matters worse, in the techno world in which we live, clients, colleagues and opposing lawyers expect an immediate answer. Sometimes mere minutes are too long! Because there is no break and no respite, there is no release for the constant pressure. Taken to an extreme, there is no hope. This can push lawyers over the edge.’ —Marc Lamber, co-founder of the Lamber-Goodnow Injury Law Team at Fennemore Craig”

This is an area in which the profession can improve.   And, as the Committee recommended, improvement starts with legal employers being willing to consider allowing their employees to set communication boundaries with clients and opposing counsel.

Finally, I’d like to acknowledge the members of the Legal Employers Committee.  Thank you for your important work.

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3 thoughts on “Wellness Wednesday: Set Communication Boundaries with Clients and Opposing Counsel.

  1. great post Mike! So relatable. These posts seem to find their way to me at the best times, thanks and have a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Boundaries; self-care And community service as well as serving clients. So broadly applicable. Love it. Thanks, Michael.

    Liked by 1 person

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