Limit Smartphone Usage in Public

The prevalence of smartphones is changing social interactions faster than I can write about them. One major problem is that many individuals have forgotten that smartphones make phone calls—there are times when a phone call is more efficient than sending an e-mail.

Another major problem is that everyone, including lawyers, excessively use their smartphones in public.

Smartphones are not for networking

Whether you are at a happy hour, having coffee, or a networking lunch, avoid using your phone. Obviously, this is 100% dependent on the situation, the need, and who you are with. For example, if you are having lunch with someone for the first time, pulling out your smartphone to check your e-mail after ten minutes is fairly ridiculous and rude. If you absolutely cannot help yourself, offer some meaningful explanation (it still looks bad though).

If you are expecting some critical phone call or e-mail, consider rescheduling lunch. One, you will likely be fixated on the pending call or e-mail and not engaged in a meaningful conversation. Networking means a lot more than just showing up and nodding. Two, if you are constantly staring at your phone, or have to leave to make a call, that can send the wrong message. Unless you know the other person will not take offense, assume they will.

Lawyers are busy and cases are unpredictable, but basic etiquette does not fly out the window.

People notice and most people do not like it

I’m a young attorney and very tech friendly, but I get just annoyed as anyone else when the person I’m socializing with is more interested in sending tweets than actively engaging in conversation. A recent study found that 92% of people were irritated by public cell phone usage and 75% felt mobile manners are worse than they were a year ago.

You may not have the gumption to ask someone to put away their phone, but you can avoid using yours, and hopefully mobile manners will start to improve.



  1. Avatar Josh Williams says:


    I feel exactly the same way as you do; it annoys the heck out of me when colleagues whip out their smartphones during get-to-know-you (i.e., networking) lunches and happy hours. That said, do you think it is possible our irritation is a generational thing given that you will be hard pressed to find a teen or twentysomething not glued to her/his smartphone? Are we going to have to adapt to ubiquitous smartphone use in the same way the boomers had to adapt to the use of e-mail in business settings?

    • Avatar Randall R. says:

      If it annoys Gen X-ers, I can only imagine how annoyed older attorneys feel. Going forward, however, I am afraid it will become the norm.

    • Avatar Raquel says:

      From someone still in my twenties, I’m baffled by how social interaction face to face is losing importance. It’s annoying and rude that with a group of friends at their house, you’re chatting and sudently *silence* everybody on their bloody phones, facebook, chats, twitter … -hey we were talking… anybody? If we’re out hiking, they have to tweet or put on facebook where they are, what they’re doing, and a couple of photos.
      Its just amazing how peoples attitudes are changing so quickly and how they don’t give a damn about what they really have in front of them.
      We have to admit that smartphones can make you life easier, but that doesn’t mean we have to lose basic maners.

  2. Avatar Patrick DiDomenico says:

    Thank you, Randall. This message cannot be repeated enough. I was just telling someone the same thing yesterday. I’m with you 100%. IMHO, constantly checking a device during a face-to-face meeting (business or personal) is one of the rudest things someone can do.

  3. Avatar Randall R. says:

    It’s 100% bad idea jeans and it seems to be getting worse.

  4. Avatar Jennifer Gumbel says:

    Not to mention that ethics rules implications. I’ve been at the airport a couple of times and have overheard conversations that are obviously meant to be confidential attorney-client conversations. I may not care, but do you want to run the risk that someone else around might? Go into a quiet corner where no one can eavesdrop.

  5. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    Does a bathroom count as public? Because I just overheard a guy answer the phone, say hello, and then flush the toilet.

  6. Avatar Andrew says:

    I think you are missing the point of how communication works today. Each of these platforms is it’s own language and efficient or lame depending on the individual situation or need. Obviously you don’t break up with someone over txt message, opt to read email when someone (maybe your kids dumbass) need our attention, and you don’t tweet your child’s birth as you are having them. However, voice is incredibly inefficient at allowing humans to own their own time and communication preference. It isn’t any better or worse than any other platforms of communication. I have a friend who is a lawyer who “outlawed” IM in the office. I tore him up and down for wasting his own time, money and talent because of his ignorance as to how it should be used. And networking CAN happen via txt, IM or any other paradigm as long as those that use it understand what its best at doing in that moment.

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