Email Do’s and Don’ts for Lawyers

  • Don’t: Hit “send” when you are emotional.
    • Tip: Ask yourself how you would feel if this message appeared on the front page of, say, the Times. If you’re comfortable with that, hit “send”.
  • Don’t: Blindly hit “respond to all”. The circle of recipients should be as small as possible. No one appreciates receiving emails that have little to do with them.
    • To: People you expect to respond
    • cc: People who should be informed
  • Don’t write long emails: Give a quick context and answer; put the rest into a memo and attach it.
    • Advantages: (1) psychological, (2) help from MS Word.
    • If the email is much longer than one screen, the reader will have to print it out anyway.
  • Do: Respond quickly to important emails.
    • Firms/partners differ in how quickly they expect their lawyers to respond to client emails. But nobody likes a long silence. So try to answer immediately (15-minute rule), at least to acknowledge receipt and tell them when to expect a full answer – then tag the email so you don’t forget.
      • Tip: If you are in a meeting, on vacation, or otherwise don’t want to follow the 15-minute rule, set your account to generate an “away” email. This is done too rarely and is better than silence.
    • Tip: Discuss with the client how they want to communicate.
      • Medium: Email, phone, in person?
      • Frequency?
      • With whom: Group, one main contact?
      • How the lawyer/client will keep the client/lawyer apprised of the matter?
    • Do: Memorialize in an email important non-written communication.
      • Tip: Request a return email confirmation.
    • Do: Delete the thread. It can be annoying and get you in trouble.
      • Tip: If the string should be kept, read the entire string.
    • Do: Think about the subject line.
      • Informative?
      • Change it if the topic of your discussion changes. This also makes it easier to file, find, or forward.
      • Short, with the most important words early. Mobile devices have limited subject line space.
    • Do: Add the addressee and subject line last.
      • Helps you draft an appropriate subject line.
      • Avoids the danger of sending the email before it’s ready.
    • Do: (Usually) include as a “cc” anyone you mention by name in the email.
    • Do: Triple check name and title before hitting “send”.
    • Do: When you type “I attach…”, stop and attach the document.
    • Do: Make life easy for partners when you prepare emails to be sent in their name.
      • Delete the internal correspondence/instructions.
      • Insert the partner’s (not your) email signature details.
      • Insert/change the subject line (see above).
      • Provide the names and email addresses of the recipients.

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