The Sunday Evening Call

When the office phone rings late in the evening on a Sunday, it usually means someone got arrested.  Arrests are emergencies in anyone’s book, and even though there is rarely much to be done about it until the defendant is brought to court for arraignment, making sure that the lawyer you want standing next to your father, brother, friend is worth trying to reach a lawyer on a Sunday evening.

For the most part, criminal defense lawyers are always reachable, knowing that clients need us when they need us. If they get arrested at 3 in morning after a wild Saturday night, that’s when their minds turn from happy things to lawyers. So be it.

But when no precipitating even occurs to explain why a person decides to call on a Sunday evening, there is a problem.  The arrest occurred weeks, maybe months, earlier. There is no court appearance the next morning that requires a lawyer beside them. There is simply no reason in the world for a call to come in on that day, at that time. And yet the call comes.

If it’s a current client, then perhaps the motivation is a sudden spark, an idea that pops into the client’s head and he needs to share it with his lawyer before it’s gone again. Or fear that struck uncontrollably, and the client needs to hear a calm voice tell him that the world isn’t going to end.  While these aren’t necessarily good reasons to call on a Sunday evening, they are at least understandable.  But what if the call comes from someone you don’t know?

Aside from emergencies, even criminal defense lawyers get to live relatively normal lives. We are allowed to eat dinner with our families, plan a day at the beach or a trip to the zoo.  And on Sundays, we get to watch football.  When a call comes in from a person we’ve never met, never spoken with, don’t know at all, on a Sunday evening, it interrupts the normalcy of life.  It raises a question: why?  Why now. Why on a Sunday evening?  Why not Monday, during normal business hours, when we expect our time to be spent doing lawyerly things like speaking with potential new clients.

These calls are a red light that the caller is a problem.  Whether because the caller’s judgment is impaired, such that he expected to find a lawyer with whom he has no prior relationship sitting at his desk, telephone at the ready, awaiting a call from some unknown person on a Sunday evening.  Whether because the caller doesn’t care if he disrupts a lawyer’s life for his sudden and inexplicable interest in chatting with a person with whom he has no relationship.

There are the two standard things one does when a call comes in. Either take it and talk, or defer to another time that would be more suitable.  The Sunday night caller wants to talk. That’s why he chose that particular moment to pick up the phone and call.  Often, it’s because that’s a good time for him to talk without interruption or in private. Suggest that it would be better to return the call during normal business hours Monday and he’s offended.  He’s here now. Don’t you care? Isn’t he more important than anything else you could possibly have to do?

This too is a warning flag, that the caller, should he become a client, won’t be calling or reachable during the business day, but will expect his lawyer to be available for discussions, perhaps even meetings, in the evenings or at his convenience. 

Sometimes, the Sunday evening caller can be made to recognize that you, like him, have a life.  While you take no issue, none, with being there on a Sunday evening if there is a reason for it, his lack of respect and concern for your time isn’t quite a virtue that makes him a desirable client.  This is no truer than when he’s not yet a client, but makes demands of your Sunday evening.

If a potential client needs to talk with a lawyer on a Sunday evening because the thought suddenly struck him and he figured he could scour the internet, find lawyer phone numbers and see if there was someone around with whom he could have a pleasant free chat, get some quick and dirty legal advice, at his convenient, he’s not the potential client you want.  This is a problem person, and unless you are in such desperate need of business that you are prepared to sacrifice whatever normalcy life has to offer for the convenience of this client, take a pass.

I answer the phone on Sunday evenings if I can.  But if it someone I don’t know, someone with no emergency, someone who is more concerned with his transitory convenience than his sucking up on my Sunday evening, then I’m going to wish him well but tell him that I’m not the right lawyer for him. 

I’m sure some lawyer, somewhere, will be willing to spend an hour or two of his Sunday evening on the phone with this caller in the hope that it’s not just another free-rider.  If that’s what he’s willing to do, that’s fine.  Just not me.  If there’s no good reason to call me on a Sunday evening, don’t. I’ll be available Monday morning if you want to talk.