Video killed the radio star, email murdered Emily Post

Spencer Farris, The Levison Group

It isn’t often that I complain about technology. If I am not king of the technogeeks, I am at least a duke. So, Gentle Reader, if the dissonance of my techno gripe is too much for you this week, I certainly understand. I stand by the proposition that technology is destroying polite legal society.

This is the time of year when gifts and parties abound. Gone are the embossed stationery thank you notes, replaced by email. Or worse, a text with an emoji. If you are over 40 and have succumbed to using emoji or their awful cousins the bitmoji, get help. Please. These are not the droids you seek.

A thank you note is rare these days, and cherishable. I confess to writing too few and enjoying the ones I receive too much. Email from readers of this space are wildly appreciated- we encourage them in fact. Even the ones chiding me for a misstep. I expect a few this week.

Computers and social media are awash in bad manners, thanks to keyboard crusaders. You know the type- folks who say things remotely that they wouldn’t dare say in person lest a gloved slap demand honor with sabers or pistols. Such cretins troll the interwebs looking for an opportunity to be offensive while safe at home desk with a Red Bull in hand. Al Gore never intended this use of his great invention.

My wife catches me hunkered over a keyboard in the wee hours, crafting a response to an online slight. A raised eyebrow tells me she suspects that I am up to no good. Her lilting voice is instant temperament to my words. I would gladly lend her to other lawyers likewise in need. Take my wife, please.

Electronic filing is becoming a tool of abuse for the rude. Most jurisdictions now require pleadings to be filed online. It is fantastic to be able to meet deadlines after the courthouse closes, and I for one do not miss sweating traffic at 4:30 to get something filed. I don’t enjoy the secret 3 a.m. continuance requests however. A courtesy call would have been made in days of old. Now I am forced to monitor email in the shower, or wait around at the courthouse for an opponent that doesn’t show.

Email embraces the worst of discourtesy. Keyboard crusaders love email. My mentor used to tell young me not to write anything in a letter that I didn’t want to see in the morning paper. So few people read newspapers first thing in the morning that his warning has lost its context, but not its importance.

Writing a letter served to mellow harsh words. The time lag between dictation and the final product allowed the blood to cool and tempers to fade. Seeing a discourteous response on 12 pound paper awaiting a signature often led to a more cool headed edit. Young me benefited greatly from this lag, and often escaped embarrassment.

Occasionally, actions demand a strongly worded response. A recent article captured the ten best lawyer replies to bad letters. My favorite was a silly complaint returned to sender with a note from the general counsel for the Cleveland Browns, advising the original author that he should know that some idiot (edited for your eyes, Gentle Reader, the actual expletive was unfit for this space) was signing his name to stupid letters. On law firm stationery no less.

In the old days, a strongly worded letter was often preceded by a telephone call, advising the recipient that one’s client demanded that the letter be sent. The recipient knew to take the letter with a grain of salt. Email is too fast for courtesy. Hitting send is doesn’t encourage the same reflection as signing in ink.

Email and electronic responses replace wit with its ill-bred cousin, snark. I am no stranger to snark, for better or worse. Some would say that I am a snark master. They would be correct, but they have no idea how often I catch myself before snarking and tone the missive down. Not often enough I confess, but it happens.

Written communication isn’t the only culprit. Telephone calls are now done over speakerphone, making everyone in the office a listener on a party line. Partners in big corner offices are blissfully unaware of the inconvenience of hearing someone else’s call, but those in cubicle farms or sharing a wall with a loud lawyer know what I mean. I often wish my office mate was tethered by a cord to a rotary phone. I may send him an email telling him so. Probably not- the headset I gifted him should send the message. I don’t expect a thank you note of course.

Clearly, rudeness is not new in our profession or our society. As professionals, lawyers are and should be held to a higher standard. Miss Manners didn’t have a J.D. after her name, but she would not approve of where we have gone.


©2017 under analysis llc. under analysis is a nationally syndicated column. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St Louis, Missouri. He recently abandoned wax embossed stationery, to his printer’s chagrin.  Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent c/o this newspaper or directly to Under Analysis via email at