Friday, September 21, 2012

Email Etiquette

Lawyers write millions of emails every day.  For many, including me, email is the preferred method of communication.  Below are some tips to make your email communications more effective and professional.

1. Do not send an email without a meaningful subject line.

Every email should have a meaningful subject line.  Subject lines should be descriptive enough to give the reader an idea about the contents of the email and to enable the reader to easily catalog or categorize the email once she receives it.  Subject lines like “meeting” and “discovery” should be avoided.  My “go to” subject line is the name of the case and the topic about which I’m writing. For example, some good subjects include:  

Mason v. Link the Cat, Inc.—Scheduling Depositions
Neculae v. Corbett d/b/a Sticky Fingers—Expert Report
General Liability Seminar—Coverage Issues PP Presentation  
July 17, 2012 Associate Seminar 

2. An email should be formatted like a short letter.

I know, I know, I can hear you all now—“Who has time to write emails that way?” It really doesn’t take much longer and makes a huge difference. All I really mean here is that emails should contain a greeting and a signature and be written using complete sentences. The greeting can be as simple as the person’s name and the signature can be as short as “thank you.” Just imagine that each and every email you send may end up attached to a motion one day. If you would be embarrassed for a judge to see your email, you need to rewrite it.



I am in receipt of your July 21, 2012 letter regarding the depositions of your clients. I am available to take those depositions on August 8, 2012. I will file the notices of deposition this week and will have my assistant obtain the services of a court reporter.

Thank you for your assistance in getting these depositions scheduled quickly. I will see you at your office on August 8, 2012.



I got your letter about the depos. We are good to go August 8. I’ll get the court reporter.


3. Keep your email as short as possible while providing all necessary information.

Emails should be short and to the point while containing all necessary information. Paragraphs should be short as well for ease of reading. If you are making multiple points in an email or listing multiple items, it is convenient to use numbered or bullet points. For example,

Dear Stephanie,

Thank you for speaking with me today about this case.

As we discussed, we are in the process of evaluating your client’s claim, but we have not received copies of all your client’s medical records for treatment related to the March 27, 2012 accident. Based on our conversation, I believe we are lacking records from the following providers:

1. Atlanta Medical Center;
2. Resurgens Orthopaedics;
3. Atlanta Family Medicine; and
4. CVS Pharmacy

I understand you have copies of these four sets of records. To minimize copying costs, please send a disc with those records to my attention at the address below.

Thank you. I look forward to receiving the records soon.


4. Use spell check.

As with letters, pleadings, and any other professional documents, you should use your spell check feature.  You would be amazed how many people use spell check functions religiously on documents typed in a word processing program, but never use them for emails.  Don’t, however, rely solely on spell check features.  Proofread emails just like you would other documents.

5. If you are looking for a response, tell the reader the response you want.

People are not mind-readers, and the easier it is for your recipient to respond to your email, the more likely he will be to do so.  If you send an email with the expectation of a response, specify the response you want. For example,

RE:   Berthelsen v. Burke—Burke Release

Dear William,

As you know, I represent ABC Insurance Company in the above-referenced matter.  It is my understanding that State Farm Insurance Company has paid $25,000 to settle Mr. Berthelsen’s claims against Ms. Burke pursuant to a limited liability release.  At your earliest convenience, please forward me a copy of the signed release.  Please feel free to email the release if that is more convenient.

Thank you.

6. Important communications should still be put in letters.

This may seem a little old-fashioned, but I absolutely abide by this rule, for a couple of reasons.  First, I use letters to communicate the seriousness of the information I’m providing.  I believe people take letters more seriously than emails.  It’s also much easier to say “I never got your email—it must have gotten caught in my spam filter” than to say “I never got your letter even though you sent it to me at my office address and I’ve received every other letter you’ve sent me.”  Second, I believe important communications should contain a handwritten signature.  Many secretaries draft and/or send emails on behalf of the attorneys for whom they work, and sometimes I’m not sure whether the email I’m receiving is really from the attorney.

Aren’t all communications important, you ask?  Of course, but some are more important than others.  While there is no set “list,” here’s a list of sample topics that I deem important enough to warrant a letter, as opposed to an email:

-Settlement communications
-Rule 6.4 letters; and
-Discussions about conduct that may later require a motion.  For example, if I think I might eventually have to file a motion to compel discovery responses or compel someone to attend a deposition, I put all communications warning that I intend to make such a filing in letters rather than emails. 

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