Monday, September 2, 2013

Telephonic Mediation and Hearings

Ferris Bueler, movie character, explains his carpe diem attitude with "life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." Life does move fast sometimes. A couple of experiences recently reminded me how time moves around us. One, I found myself on the plane home from the National Association of Workers' Compensation Judiciary ("NAWCJ") College in Orlando. Sitting, waiting for takeoff, I reflected on the week and wondered at how fast it had passed. Too fast. During the College, held at the same time and venue as the Workers' Compensation Educational Conference, I spoke with an attorney who had concerns about a friend. 

The attorney described that this friend feels trapped in cage that the attorney has her/himself constructed. The cage is built of things and possessions and commitments that were dreamed of and amassed to a great extent when the economy was better. Unfortunately, when we have economic downturns, the commitments like mortgage payments, office rent, and similar are still due despite the fact that sometimes revenue decreases. The friend of this attorney has attempted to deal with decreasing revenue in this economic environment by  slowly increased the number of hours worked each week. This plan has reached its ultimate, predictable, outcome as the attorney has run out of days and hours to pour into work. 

S/he is now reportedly working seven days a week and more than ten hours per day, with office time often closer to twelve hours many days in a given week. I have touched on this before from various perspectives, but there is only so much time in the day, only so many days in the week, and only so much focus you can bring to a given project, case, or effort. 

Coincidentally, one of the NAWCJ College speakers this year was an appellate judge who spoke on effective judicial writing. She described a perception or conclusion that there is no such thing as "multi-tasking." She says that our minds are only capable of doing one thing at a time, and that when we think we are "multi-tasking" we are actually still handling one mental task at a time, to the detriment of whatever task we think we are "also" accomplishing.  In effect, she says that we are switching back and forth between the two tasks and one or both is suffering.

The point? There is an increasing body of evidence supporting the conclusion that driving a car requires all of our attention. Despite this, the results of polling support that we do many things while we drive. People eat and drink, send and read texts, use our GPS, adjust our hair or makeup, surf the Internet, and make or receive phone calls. There is data to suggest that our use of electronic devices is perhaps increasing, even with the publicity of its perils.

Leveraging technology to make yourself more productive and therefore profitable is likely inevitable. The word-processor, laser printer, cell phone, the list goes on. Technology can allow us to be effective and more efficient. Appearing by telephone for a motion hearing or status conference can save a great deal of time not spent on travel, parking place hunting, and waiting. Telephonic appearance at mediation can save time on these same tasks.

However, using technology such as the cell phone, while engaged in another activity, particularly one as dangerous as driving, is likely not smart. This is true when the phone call is a simple conversation, but becomes much more so when the phone call requires all of your mental acuity, creativity, and focus. That is, it is much more so when that phone call is to attend a proceeding which requires our full attention such as a hearing or a mediation. 

I am not suggesting that you cannot attend such a proceeding from a cell phone. Technology has improved dramatically. Dropped calls are far less common today than a decade ago. But pull the car off the road; find a safe parking place (it's Florida, look for a safe and shady spot). 

Use the technology appropriately, and safely. I recognize the temptation to keep moving, on to the next commitment, while attending with the cell phone. The economic needs and commitments may argue against our stopping. However, there is a sound argument that you are not focused on both the call and the driving when you do so. Which is getting your true attention at the moment? If you are truly doing a service to your client (focused on the call) you may not be appropriately focused on the road (your own safety), and visa versa. 

This economy is perhaps going to drive us to work harder and even longer. However, if we are not safe about the manner, if we don't remain focused on taking some personal time periodically, we are not doing a service to ourselves.  We all owe it to ourselves to look out for our own safety, and you owe it to your clients. They need you for tomorrow also, not just today. 

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