Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"E-mail Etiquette Matters"

In its June 2008 issue, the New York Law Journal Magazine includes an article entitled "E-mail Etiquette Matters," by Gil Feder, a partner at Reed Smith and the director of the firm's summer associate program, and Sabrina Franconeri, training coordinator for the firm's "University."

Let's be frank. Most practicing attorneys are stunned, stunned, by the e-mail and other electronic communication practices of interns and new attorneys. The most frequent complaints we hear are the casual nature of the communications and spelling/grammar mistakes. Mr. Feder and Ms. Franconeri offer several sound tips on how interns and new lawyers can help make sure their e-mail communications are being received in the positive and winning spirit which we only can assume they have been sent.

1. Always consider that your e-mail may become a public document through some intrusive discovery request. Always consider that what you write in a business email may be plastered on the front page of the New York Times. Keep it professional at all times.

2. Always make sure your subject line reasonably and adequately describes the body of your e-mail. Business e-mails are not surprise parties. The subject line should focus a reader's attention on what's to come.

3. Proofread every message (more than once). Do not rely on spell check. There is no such thing as a "trail" lawyer. Make sure the layout, font, and structure make the e-mail easy to read.

4. Be brief and to the point. Some communications should not be made by email (unless you are instructed to do so). Rather, the written memorandum or a face-to-face communication might be more appropriate if the subject matter would make the email too long or wordy.

5. Include the original message thread when making a reply. Do not delete any portion of the chain of emails.

6. Be cautious when using abbreviations and acronyms as not all your readers may be familiar with them. Avoid smiley faces and other emoticons.

7. Do not use offensive or biased language (see Point Number 1).

8. Be careful when using the "Reply to All" button. Clicking this button when you mean only to reply to one person can cause unmitigated disasters.

9. Be careful with large attachments. Depending on the recipient's computer, a large attachment may slow a computer down or be incompatible. Ask permission to send a large attachment.

10. Never respond to an emotionally-laden email immediately. Cool off a little. Let the email percolate in your head. Then sit down and compose a considered and measured response. Do not use all capitals or all lower case, or worse, the dreaded ComBinAtiOn.

Bottom line: be smart with your email use. Ask your Career Services Office counselor for advice if you have any questions about e-mail etiquette.

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