Taming the E-Mail Monster
By Nancy Grekin
E-MAIL BASICS AND FORMATTING
If you use e-mail as most of us do, it is a substitute for a phone call and for most if not all of your business letters. Make it look like a business letter! Turn on the spell checker in your e-mail client, and re-read every e-mail before you send it as you used to re-read your letters. Don’t type e-mails all in caps – it’s like shouting! Don’t use colors for your text (would you do that on your letterhead? ). Punctuate and use appropriate paragraph breaks to make it readable just as you would in a contract or formal letter.
Use a “signature” at the bottom of all of your e-mails. Every e-mail client allows you to create a signature which includes your contact information and to have it inserted at the bottom of every message – some mail clients let you decide if you want it or not with each message you send. A signature might look like this:
Nancy N. Grekin
McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon
5 Waterfront Plaza, 4 th Floor
500 Ala Moana Boulevard
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813
808.529.7419 (Direct Dial/Voice Mail)
808.535.8015 (Direct Fax)
815.642.0088 (Internet Fax/Internet Voice Mail)
Why do this? We all get a lot of e-mail from other lawyers or contacts whose contact information we lack. It is annoying and frustrating to get an e-mail from someone who does not use a signature and whose e-mail address does not identify who . And even more annoying to have to call the sender and not have telephone number.
OK to Use the Phone
Do you get looooong e-mails which take a lot of your time to read and which require a detailed verbal discussion in response? Do you wish the sender had just picked up the phone and called you because now you’ve got lots to say? I follow what I call my 3-paragraph rule: if an e-mail or a response takes more than 3 paragraphs I do it the old-fashioned way – I pick up my phone and call. Do you send e-mail to your partners and associates down the hall? Get off your okole 1(cite) and go to their offices ! Face to face is always more productive.
That “Reply to all” button is so tempting. Resist it. You know how much e-mail you get. And how much of it you delete without a second thought. Think about whether everyone who got the message you received needs to hear the reply before pushing that button. Just this week my IT department sent a message to all lawyers informing us that a new program which had recently been installed on some computers was being removed because it wasn’t working right. Several lawyers responded to all and sent their message to all lawyers in the firm (most saying that they didn’t know what the message was talking about!).
One way to get all of your contact information to all recipients is to tell your mail client to always attach your “v-card.” A v-card includes all of the contact information which you have entered in your mail client and set as your v-card. The good news is that it is easy to always get all of your contact information to all of your mail recipients and they can easily save it to their mail client. The bad news is that your recipients are going to get the same information every time you send them a message if you automatically attach the v-card! Consider using your v-card only when you choose to do so, and only the first time you communicate with a mail recipient.Format of E-Mail. If you want to format your e-mails using bold, underline or bullets you will have to format it as either HTML or RTF. But if you use RTF and you are an Outlook user and have an attachment, the format of that attachment will be converted to a format which a recipient who does not use Outlook cannot open. Use HTML if you want formatting such as bold and bullets.
Format of Attachments. Like the long e-mail sent to all who were on the original message, the temptation to send a lot of documents to a lot of people is rampant and we all suffer from its consequences. Worse, how many times have you gotten a lot of attachments and the files had names like “Scan.pdf” or “87465QT” which meant you had to open every one in order to figure out which ones you needed to see and save. I still run WordPerfect (I believe I am the only remaining lawyer in America who does) and occasionally get documents from law firms running it. I can open them. But those running only Word cannot – it cannot convert WP documents to Word format. Make sure the documents you send have names which indicate what they are, that they are in a format the recipients can open, and that you think about who needs to get what.
Pagination is Printer Dependent. If you send a document in Word format to three people and they have three different printers, the pagination will likely be different for each of them. The longer the document the greater the differences in pagination. If you are sending documents to multiple parties for execution, first convert the documents to an image format such as PDF which will retain pagination by converting the words to image.
We all have a love-hate relationship with e-mail. We love it because it makes it possible to instantly communicate with multiple people all over the world and it is a great substitute for telephone tag. We hate it because it is a constant intrusion on our attempts to concentrate on one thing for any length of time. Do you keep your mail client running constantly all day? Do the messages from your mail client telling you that you have e-mail distract you?
Consider whether you have to keep your mail client running constantly. You might reduce the distraction by checking your e-mail when you come in, then shutting it down for a couple of hours while you get some work done. Perhaps set aside certain times during the day when you will read and return e-mail.
The most powerful e-mail management tool is filtering. Even if you decide that you must keep your mail client running all day, if you filter your mail you will know immediately which messages you must deal with, and which can wait.
All e-mail clients permit you to set up rules for disposition of e-mail as it arrives. The most typical rules tell the mail client that when mail is received from a recipient it is to be saved in a particular folder. This allows you to save all mail from everyone relating to a particular case to the same folder. If you subscribe to listservs you can filter those messages into their own folder where you can deal with them at your leisure. There are a huge number of criteria available in most clients upon which to base your filtering including such things as a sound alert when you receive a message marked as high priority.
If you receive a huge volume of e-mail the first issue you’ll face is whether to print it. If you print it all , you will need an army of clerical help to deal with it and get it filed. And if you file it, the biggest question you’ll face is whether you will ever look at it again! Chances are not great that you will spend time thumbing though the file to find it and read it.
Mail clients have searching capabilities which permit a full text search (and there are some terrific add-ons which add capabilities) and allow you to sort mail by name of sender, date received, subject or any of the other fields you’ve chosen so you can easily find a message. And if you are filtering your mail, looking for it is even simpler. Why bother to print when you can find messages so readily? Go paperless and save a few trees and the strain on the size of your physical files.
If you are a litigator or you have litigation partners , they are probably telling you not to delete any of your e-mail. But you don’t have to let it clutter up your in box. If you filter, Outlook allows you to save a folder one at a time as a file. Adobe Acrobat allows you to print an entire folder of mail to PDF and save it as a file. This permits you to archive all the mail in a mailbox once a deal or a case is done together with all of the documents you used and burn it all to a CD.
One of the most frustrating aspects of doing business by e-mail is trading documents with other lawyers. You save the document in your document management system and give it a name, trying to keep track of versions. The lawyer on the other side revises it and sends it back with a different name or perhaps its name is its number in her document management system. If you save all of these drafts in your DMS you’ve got a nightmare of version control and figuring out what the last draft was. Here are a couple of suggestions for taming this monster:Use the version control naming conventions of your DMS. If you don’t use a DMS but store your documents in folders on your hard drive or network, adopt a naming convention to keep track of versions such as Agreement v1.doc, Agreement v2.doc and Agreement rd1.doc and so forth. And use a logical folder naming protocol such as name of client or type of document.
When you get back a revised draft with a different name, either import it into your DMS as the next version, or if you store on your hard drive and use a naming convention, rename it so that it follows your naming convention – you can include information about the sender whose draft it was in the name since file names can be any length.
Since most of us use Outlook , no mail management discussion would be complete without information on its advanced features. It is not the only mail client out there, but it certainly is the most ubiquitous.
Click on Tools/Rules and Alerts and the E-Mail Rules tab. Click “New Rule” and you will be taken through a series of steps which allows you to specify a rule to filter mail, and where to send the message when the rule is applied. There are 27 possible rules to apply to messages and you can apply more than one in the same rule. Create a folder to send the messages to when the rule is applied, specify that folder and you are done. Most of your rules will probably be based on who the sender is and it is easy to get the addresses into the rule – you can have as many addresses in the rule as you like. When you click on “People or distribution list” , your Outlook address book will open and you can select a name to add the rule. After creating a rule, you can immediately run it and it will move all the messages which satisfy the rule in your Inbox to the specified folder.
To use Word as your e-mail editor , click on Tools/Options and the “Mail Format” tab, then check the boxes in the “Message format” list. The advantage of using Word as your e-mail editor is that you will have all the functionality you have in Word: styles, numbering styles, and autocorrect entries and autotext functionality. The disadvantage is that your styles might not translate to the recipient of the message, particularly if they don’t use Outlook and/or Word so you might send some unreadable or sloppy looking messages. A further disadvantage is that using this feature disables some add-on functions such as programs which integrate Outlook with document management systems.You can save and print attachments directly from an Outlook message by opening the message and right-clicking on the attachment. There are sophisticated add-ons to Outlook which allow you to integrate with your document management system saving attachments directly to the DMS or even saving an attachment as a new version of an existing document in your DMS.
If you get a message calling a meeting you can simply drag it to Calendar and a calendar entry for the current day will open. The message will appear in the notes screen at the bottom of the calendar entry. Set the correct date and time in the calendar and you have your meeting in calendar.
Now having done any of those things with messages, delete them! If you think about the content of most of your messages there is little need ever to have very many of them in your Inbox. If you filter, you’ll have many of them in other folders where they won’t bother you every time you open Outlook. If you’ve dragged meeting messages to calendar, things to do to Tasks and information to Notes, many of the messages remaining will be either messages with attachments, or copies of messages to someone else. Save the attachments from those messages and delete the message. If they are copies of messages sent to someone else chances are you can delete them.
Your goal: to end every day or week with few or no e-mail messages in your Inbox. Think about how often you go back and actually look at those messages and you’ll probably start to realize that this is one way to make it all seem far less overwhelming.
If you want to invite others to a meeting, click on File/New/Meeting Request, and the message you send will have buttons at the top to accept, decline or suggest another date. If the recipient accepts the meeting, it is automatically inserted into their calendar.
To add a sender to your contact list simply open the message, click on the name to select it, right click and select “Add Sender to Outlook Contacts.” Easier yet, you can drag the message to Contacts and Outlook will automatically open a contacts window with the sender’s name and e-mail address.
You can view the contents of messages without opening them in Outlook in two ways. You can view the message at the bottom or right of the screen by clicking on Reading Pane and Bottom or Left. You can also view the first few lines of a message by clicking on AutoPreview.
You’ve received one of those messages from the poor woman in Africa whose father died leaving her a fortune and asking you to hold her money for her. All you have to do is give her your bank account number so she can make the deposit. There are solicitations to buy ethical drugs on line, stock recommendations, and the latest form of spam “phishing” messages which seek bank or password information and appear to be messages from legitimate businesses. All of them are dangerous and all of them can eventually lead to more spam.
Have you ever gotten an annoying message which appears to be advertising and which includes an invitation to reply if you don’t want to receive any more messages? DON’T REPLY. When you reply you verify to the sender that your address is real and you will now receive lots of spam. Do you buy stuff on the Internet and notice that there is a little box you can check if you want to get e‑mails from the vendor? DON’T CHECK IT. Many of those vendors will send you their advertising and also sell your address to others who turn out to be spammers. Indeed any time you buy anything on the Internet you run the risk that someone you don’t want to will get your address. Instead of using your usual address, get a Yahoo or HotMail address and use that. Then any spam which might result will go there instead. Is your e-mail address on a Web site somewhere? It is simple for spammers to harvest such addresses . So use HTML hyperlinks or avoid having your address on the Web site.
One of the most dangerous forms of spam is “phishing.” A “phish” is a message which appears to come from a legitimate business such as a bank, or very commonly eBay or PayPal. The message states that there is a problem with your account and that your password or account number is required. Many of the messages include the logo of the business they purport to come from and appear to direct the user to that business’ actual Web site. They typically provide that you have to verify an account, or state that if you don’t reply your account will be closed.
The consequence of these spams is identity theft, bank account fraud and similar harsh results , and it is phenomenal how many people fall for them. If you get a message from a bank or financial institution where you do not have an account, or from eBay or PayPal indicating that there is a problem with your account , don’t reply. Go to the actual Web site and check your account information. Don’t ever reply to one of these messages because like any spam it will prove that your e-mail address is valid.
Unless you want to be overwhelmed, you have to use spam filters. Outlook has a fairly elaborate “junk” filter built in and you can add rules of own to search for words like “viagra” and filter such messages to a junk mailbox. Go to Tools/Options/Preference and click the “Junk E-Mail” button. Spam filter programs abound. There are spam screening services which filter mail , but there is a danger that good mail will be filtered. And there are “white list” and “black list” services . White lists allow you to specify who you can receive mail from and usually require new senders to go through a verification process with you. Black lists name senders that you don’t want to receive from. Any law firm with its own mail server should use an enterprise spam filter which filters at the mail server.
You can control the e-mail monster by using filtering, immediately deleting what you don’t need and not printing any of it. Be smart about spam by using alternate addresses in your commercial transactions on the Internet and resisting “Reply to all.” Make it your goal next week to leave on Friday with nothing in your In box!
1. Hawaiian for the part of your anatomy you sit on.