In every practice except mine, you are going to get a bad result in a case. It’s inevitable. But, while frustrating, you can make it worse by failing to inform the client in a timely and professional manner. It’s a tough thing to do, but luckily there are an abundance of resources and approaches that can help. For instance, Twitter, a faxed note, or a letter dropped into the mail on a Friday morning are good examples. But for a truly personal touch that will engage the client and help them consider you for future work, you should try the singing telegram.
Singing telegrams have been around since 1933, when Western Union invented them, well before Steve Jobs invented the Slimline telephone. For years, lawyers have been using Western Union for rapid client communications, especially when a fax doesn’t cut it. But, ironically, lawyers have overlooked more powerful messaging through personalized singing telegrams. Even though the U.S. government allowed Western Union to drop its singing telegram service in 1973, there are plenty of companies out there who still indulge in the service. Don’t overlook them. And don’t overlook the power you have with one phone call.
A critical consideration in using singing telegrams to deliver bad news is the tone you need to convey. While intuitively it may feel best to deliver bad news in a somber tone, and thus by someone dressed up as Abe Lincoln or a devastated widow, don’t jump to conclusions so quickly. News about a client’s claim that has been thrown out on account of res judicata can be seriously surreal if delivered by an adult dressed up as a robot, a crazy chicken, or a pink gorilla. Remember, it’s not about the sucky message, it’s about how you deliver the sucky message. The more surreal and seriously deranged the delivery, the more the client may get distracted about the bad news and think “shit, at least I’m not a singing messenger.” Don’t believe us? Two words for you: Tea Party.
If you are a criminal defense attorney, be mindful that most prisons or jails will not allow singing telegrams. Accordingly, a singing telegram is often not an option to deliver the bad news of a rejected post-conviction appeal. Nevertheless, unless you are south of the Mason-Dixon line, call ahead to the correctional facility just in case they have a favorable policy toward such messages. Start by asking about a Rockin’ Cop telegram sung to the tune of Jailhouse Rock. If that’s acceptable, push it a bit and inquire about a nine-foot Alice Cooper. Or a regular size Don Rickles. In all cases, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Finally, don’t confuse singing telegrams with kissagrams or stripograms. Both of these alternative telegrams would be inappropriate for delivering bad news, as they do not involve some sort of verbiage, the trademark of a good lawyer. Accordingly, if you are delivering bad news, ask the telegram service to omit any kissing or stripping. If it’s good news, however, we’re not stopping you. In fact, we can see the awesomeness in that as well.