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You’ve got mail!

There is at least one email each day that gives me pause before I press send. It might be an email to 20 attorneys attaching a first draft of a lengthy settlement agreement and release that I know will be met with line-by-line and word-by-word scrutiny by just as many insurance adjusters and parties. It might be an email to opposing counsel building a record for what may unfortunately turn into a discovery dispute with that dreaded language, “I’m confirming the substance of our phone call this morning….” (A very good lawyer in Virginia once told me, by the way, that lawyers in Virginia never write those kinds of “confirmatory” emails to one another). Or it might be an internal email reminding a colleague to execute a certain task in a certain way, a message has the potential to be misunderstood or misconstrued.

I have learned many lessons about using, or rather, not using email in my practice. A wise choice seems to be to treat every email like an exhibit in your case. Draft it with the same intention and attention that you would prepare a letter. This means including a salutation, a greeting, a conclusion and a signature block. One of the most frustrating aspects of mobile email, and sometimes regular office email, is that the signature block is omitted and you have to then spend time digging through old messages or going into your address book to find contact information in order to follow-up on an email with a phone call. If every email you send has a good, crisp appearance, you can be sure that the substance of what you are saying will be front and center. And, if it just doesn’t feel right, ditch the email and pick up the phone.

New lawyers, law clerks, and interns are forging their reputations in our profession, not only through court appearances or bar events, but line-by-line, word-by-word in email, instant messenger, tweets and Facebook posts. With the click of a button, you tell people you have never met so much about yourself. Because it is so easy to convey an opinion without meeting a face-to-face challenge, you can become emboldened and careless. Emails can be quick and helpful, but in my own experience, when they get too informal they become sloppy and they don’t help you maintain a good professional image.

It is good practice to try to control your email tone so that you avoid inadvertently conveying negativity or criticism (unless that is what is intended). Consider your emails as exhibits; treat them with the same care you would something you were submitting to the court. Good practices like these can help maintain a cleaner file, keep your professional relationships from veering into murky territory, and demonstrate your positive, professional demeanor.

Finally, please never “Reply All” unless it is absolutely necessary!