Lawyers are known for their cautious nature, but like everyone else, they can make mistakes when using email. Some become horror stories, while others are just embarrassments. The following are common mistakes that attorneys make in emails.
Sending It 'From the Desk of'
This old-fashioned terminology is silly and pretentious. Worse, part or all of the sender's name is cut off because most email system inboxes don't display sender names that long. Just use your name.
Adding Fancy Flourishes
Some lawyers try to get creative with the appearance of their emails. Fancy flourishes in signatures are common, as are unnecessary graphics or artwork. Anything that makes the words hard to read is a bad idea. It also makes the message slower to open. Keep it simple. You're not selling your artistic skill.
Forgetting to Use the Signature Block
Most email systems have an easy-to-use automated signature block. Use it to eliminate the risk that you'll forget to include basic information like your name, address, and telephone number. Some lawyers turn their email footers into mini-commercials while others take a minimalist approach. Many add a privacy notice or legal disclaimer. All of these are acceptable uses of an email signature block.
Emailing While Angry
Lawyers may be especially at risk to email while angry, although it could happen to anybody. In the old days, lawyers had secretaries type their letters and a long lag before mail pickup. Re-create that cooling-off period for yourself before firing off an email. It could make the difference between keeping or losing clients, friends, and money.
Failing to Respond Quickly
Some attorneys assume that the old five-day rule for responding to business correspondence applies to email. It doesn't. People expect faster responses to an email than a letter sent through the mail. Try to reply within 24 hours. If the matter is complicated, send an acknowledgment and let the person know when to expect a response. Otherwise, the client is left to speculate on whether any response is coming.
Sending Mail to the Wrong Address
The auto-complete function on email systems is a great convenience, but it increases the risk of sending an email to the wrong recipient. This could be no more than a minor embarrassment, but in some cases, it could amount to professional negligence. Don't accidentally email confidential client communications to opposing counsel or another client.
Using "Reply All" Without Double-Checking
Say opposing counsel sends an email to you with a proposal or an assertion of opinion. You forward the email to the other attorneys in your firm who are involved with the case. Soon the "reply all" button is being liberally used, and no one notices that opposing counsel is getting copied on the internal discussion at your firm. It happens. When you hit "reply all," check each email address in the recipient list before pressing Send.
Using Sloppy Subject Lines
A simple and informative subject line such as "Parkerson case" or "Smith proposed agreement" works best. Don't leave the subject line blank or your message may be overlooked. Keep your tone serious and professional, avoiding any temptation to use a subject line like "my idiotic client" or "stupid judge's order." Never forget that an email can be forwarded to anyone.
Don't Argue Via Email
When people speak face to face, facial cues and vocal tones help make their intent clear. On telephone calls, a speaker's voice signals when a statement is meant to be sarcastic, joking, or serious. But in email, it is dangerously easy to completely misread a person's intent, and respond inappropriately.
Lawyers, who argue with each other all the time, can be especially at risk. A hair-trigger response to perceived rudeness or hostility could be disastrous. Wait a while and then read the message again. Even if you still perceive rudeness, try responding with politeness. You may find it defuses the situation.