Most lawyers use the telephone many times during a typical working day. There is nothing especially different about using English on the telephone to using any other language on the telephone. However, there are a number of common phrases which people tend to use when speaking on the telephone. Knowing what these are, what they mean and how they are used should help make communication easier.

One of the particular problems with telephoning is that you cannot see the person you are speaking to. You therefore do not have the benefit of the non-verbal clues given by body language which assist communication in face-to-face situations. This makes it especially important for both parties to speak clearly and use simple terms.

An additional consideration for lawyers is that what is said over the telephone is likely to be noted down and recorded in a case file by the person to whom you are speaking. You should do the same. It is therefore important that you do not accidentally reveal something about your client’s case that should be kept confidential, or say anything that might be misunderstood. If you are unsure, write a letter, fax or email instead. Always make a note of the contents of all discussions with other lawyers over the telephone immediately after the call is made – in that way if the other lawyer has misunderstood what you have said, you have the evidence to show that this is the case and put the matter straight.


There are a number of phrases that are only used when telephoning. Some examples are contained in this dialogue:

Receptionist: Hello, Smith Ltd. How can I help you?

Juan Ramirez: This is Juan Ramirez (from …). Could I speak to Clare Peters please?/Could I have extension 736?

Receptionist: Certainly Mr. Ramirez, hold on a minute, I’ll put you through …

Clare Peters’ office: Tim Brown speaking.

Juan Ramirez: Hello. This is Juan Ramirez calling. Is Clare in?

Tim Brown : I’m afraid she’s out at the moment/in a meeting/with a client/not taking any calls/on holiday until Thursday/on a business trip [etc]. Can I take a message?

Juan Ramirez: Yes, this is Juan Ramirez from… Could you ask Clare to call me as soon as she gets a chance? My number is +34 9 456 8965. I need to talk to her about the Statchem case, it’s urgent.

Tim Brown: Could you repeat the number please?

Juan Ramirez: Yes, that’s +34 9 456 8965 and my name is Juan Ramirez.

Tim Brown: Could you tell me how you spell ‘Ramirez’?

Juan Ramirez: It’s R-A-M-I-R-E-Z.

Tim Brown: Thank you Mr. Ramirez. I’ll make sure Clare gets this ASAP.

Juan Ramirez: Thanks, bye.

Tim Brown: Bye.

The language used during telephone calls is usually informal and differs in some respects to everyday English. Here are some typical language functions and suggested language.

Introducing yourself