ABA Business Law Section Newsletter Guest Article: Master the Art of Email

02/28/2013


We have all been guilty of drafting a substandard e-mail at some point-missing subject lines, typographical errors, misspelled words, overly vague references to a person or document, using ALL CAPS or forgetting an attachment. As a lawyer, you have either received or, in the heat of a stressful deal or case, sent an e-mail that could have been drafted more eloquently. However, consistently drafting well-crafted and polished e-mails is a simple way to set you apart as a young lawyer. Given the global nature of law practice today and the fact that e-mail may be the only contact many of your colleagues and clients will have with you as a young lawyer, your e-mails could be all that people have to rely on when assessing your work product. Here are some simple tips to help master the art of e-mailing with minimal effort.

  • Treat e-mailing like letter-writing. Many of the mistakes that are seen with e-mailing could be avoided if the drafter thought of the e-mail as a formally typed letter being sent through snail mail. When is the last time you saw a sloppy abbreviation or incomplete sentence used in a letter you received in an envelope? Take the time to think through your e-mail as though it was a condensed letter and draft your e-mail accordingly. Do not forego seemingly small details that actually make a difference in the interest of saving a few seconds. Include a salutation, take a moment to review an attachment to ensure it is the correct one and include a closing remark. You may not feel like you have the luxury of taking the time to include these niceties, but in the long run, this attention to detail will definitely pay off.

  • Make technology your ally. What young lawyer has not had a nightmare about mistakenly hitting “reply all” before sending a less-than flattering email? Or, how many times have you referenced an attachment only to realize later that you never attached the document? Unfortunately, these simple oversights could paint the picture of an associate who is a tad careless or not very detail-oriented. You can avoid these types of mistakes by creating a “dummy proof” system. For example, Microsoft Office Outlook allows users to set up a rule to delay the sending of an e-mail. When you hit “send,” the e-mail actually sits in your outbox for a specified period of time before it is actually sent to your recipients. There are few e-mail blunders you cannot avoid if you have an extra minute or two to rethink your e-mail before it is sent off into cyberspace. While technology can be your saving grace, it can also be your enemy. Using smart phones to e-mail while you are out of the office is a huge advantage of practicing law in the digital age. However, do not make the mistake of using the same casual tone you would use when texting a friend when you are sending an e-mail to a client or partner. Many young lawyers have adopted an informal style when it comes to e-mailing, a style which can often sound unprofessional and sloppy. Do not fall into the trap of sending shoddy e-mails when you are on the go. If it means stepping out of a room and re-reading an e-mail before you hit “send” on your smartphone, do it! It will save you from heartache in the long run.

Excerpted from the American Bar Association Business Law Section Newsletter, February 28, 2013. To view full article, click here.

 

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