I love email.
And I hate email.
I like to think that I’m not alone in this. Email has offered legal practice huge benefits in legal practice, but it has also detracted from many aspects of productivity and focus that lawyers need in order to remain effective in their legal careers.
Here’s a couple of thoughts on the good, bad and ugly of email to get you thinking whether you’re using it right in your day to day legal practice.
It wasn’t too long ago that we had to post letters to each other, hand deliver them or use a fax machine. But what about those affidavits that are 150 pages long and urgent? What about the contract with schedules, plans and other material attached that just would not go through the fax machine.
Email has solved those issues. We can now communicate vast amounts of information in a fairly small space of time, and with little effort.
However, is that always a good thing?
The problem with instant communication is that it works both ways.
Most clients don’t necessarily appreciate that we don’t have the answers at our fingertips to every legal question that can arise.
As a result, they email us and then call 5 minutes later to find out the answer. Or they expect that because it was a short email the answer is easy and we should know it straight away. This can cause a mismatch in client expectations and some potential issues.
One of the big problems with email is that it can cause us to react without thinking. We type the email and we shoot it off.
This can be fine on many occasions, but the ease with which we can get the communication out the door can be a big problem. Sometimes it’s because we don’t consider all the issues properly. Sometimes it’s because we bypass the normal firm procedures when it comes to issuing correspondence.
Other times it can be because we react emotionally to something and send it before we’ve calmed down.
If you want to avoid this problem simply think about this: what will happen if a judge reads this email out loud in Court one day? It’s a sobering thought, and will keep you in a good place before you click the send button.
It Is Informal
One of the things young lawyers struggle with is getting the tone right in their legal writing. Part of the reason for that is because there is a difference between formal letters and informal letters. Striking the right tone in an email to clients and other parties can have a huge impact on the effect of the communication.
It’s easy with email to stray a little too far towards the informal tone. Sometimes, but usually rarely, that will be ok. However for most emails we need to ensure that we have enough formality to maintain our professional image, but not so much formality that the recipient (primarily if it’s a client) thinks we are a robot who can’t write like a normal person.
With letters people expect a certain greater degree of formality, however with emails this can be a harder balance. If in doubt, my suggestion is to stray more towards formal, because with clients you always have the option of just picking up the phone and calling them to develop the personal relationship.
Got an more thoughts about why you love or hate email in your own legal practice? Let me know in the comments!