Leaving a Professional Telephone Message

A new lawyer must know how to leave a professional telephone message. While leaving a telephone message may seem obvious, leaving a professional telephone message takes knowledge, skill, and practice. A telephone message may be your “first contact” with a client, opponent, or court—and a professional first impression may influence subsequent communications. Even with mundane or repeat contacts, a consistent, professional telephone message style reflects your professional demeanor.

Purpose for Communication

The purpose of a telephone message is to encourage the message recipient to return your call. Thus, a professional telephone message clearly and concisely communicates:

  1. your name,
  2. your organization/firm name,
  3. your telephone number,
  4. the person you are calling, and
  5. the reason why you are calling.

Leaving the Message

Foremost, slow down. While the slow diction may seem unnatural at first, with practice, you will develop your telephone-message voice. Consciously force yourself to speak slowly. (Obviously, I am not suggesting that your diction be so slow that you sound peculiar. Have another professional listen to a test message and provide feedback on your cadence.)

Enunciate clearly. Avoid mumbling, volume drop-off, or a rapid-fire-staccato message—running numbers together.

Sit up straight. Focus on the call. Avoid distractions. (This really helps as it keeps one focused on the call.)

Keep the message short and concise. Leaving a “detailed” or long-winded telephone messages is rude—forcing the recipient to act as a dictation machine. If the message cannot be communicated in less than 10 seconds, use another form of communication (or combine the telephone call with the alternate form of communication).

Always leave your full telephone number including area code. Focus especially on enunciating each digit.

Jot yourself a quick outline or script before the call to help you keep focused and avoid improper content.

Make sure the message does not disclose confidential, private, or privileged information. After all, you could accidentally leave the message on the wrong machine or an unintended person may listen to the message.

Suggested Script

This script presumes you 1) slow down, 2) enunciate clearly, and 3) remain focused.

Hello, my name is Charles Dickens, and I am calling from the law firm of Scrooge and Marley. My telephone number is 7-1-7-5-5-5-1-2-1-2. I am calling to speak with Mr. Fezziwig about a legal matter. Mr. Fezziwig may reach me in the morning from 9 to 12 or afternoon from 2 to 5. Again, this is Charles Dickens, and my telephone number is 7-1-7-5-5-5-1-2-1-2.

The telephone number is spelled out here with hyphens to emphasize the clear pauses between digits: seven … one … seven … five …. Clearly enunciate each digit with a slight pause after each digit—as if you were conducting a count-down. (Visualize the digits as spelled out numbers. This really helps slow down the cadence.)

The caller’s name and telephone number are purposefully (and necessarily) left at the beginning and end of the message—making it easier for the call recipient to record this information.

Assumptions to Avoid

While email and text messaging are ubiquitous, many still rely on telephone messages. Do not assume that everyone uses texting, has re-dial, or has last-number-received displays.

Also, as noted above, do not assume the actual recipient is your intended recipient. Thus, avoid leaving any confidential, private, or other sensitive information. (Yet another reason to quickly jot a script before the call to avoid telephone message ramble.)

Concluding Remarks

Leaving good messages takes practice. Apply the techniques with every call to make them a professional habit. The reward: good messages reflect your professional demeanor, courtesy, and attention to small details.


Original Publication: 06 March 2011
Revised: 07 July 2011
Revised: 14 February 2013