E-mail: Bane or Blessing?

By J. Anthony Vittal


Many of us are familiar with the pleasant voice or tone sequence emanating from our computer’s speakers announcing, "You’ve got mail." Many of us also have come to dread that announcement, signaling that more garbage has arrived in our electronic inbox for us to wade through and delete. With our clients and opposing counsel demanding that we be ever more responsive 24/7, e-mail, which enables written communication without being tied to an office or a fax machine, has become a fact of life for the practicing lawyer. We communicate by e-mail with our clients, our colleagues, our opponents, our staff, and even our families and friends from desktop workstations, from notebook computers, and from handheld devices. I even send letters as graphically or digitally signed PDF files via e-mail, when I want to have a higher degree of formality to the communication than a simple e-mail message. I never have to worry about "rain or snow or dark of night" keeping the postperson from his or her "appointed rounds." I hope this article will help you to manage your share of the estimated four billion e-mail messages coursing through the American business community this year—more than half of which are spam.

Choice of E-mail Client
To manage your e-mail most effeciently, you need to choose the best e-mail client (application). For non-AOL users, the options typically are Eudora®, Microsoft® Outlook®, Microsoft® Outlook Express, Netscape Communicator’s included e-mail client, and the rather kitschy Incredimail (which is better suited for kids, with its multimedia sound and graphics elements). Even though I use Outlook at the office and enjoy its workgroup features and functionality, I personally prefer Eudora as an e-mail client and have used it for over a decade to send, receive, and manage my e-mail from my office and personal accounts, except for workgroup scheduling communications, for which I use Outlook.

Eudora
Eudora 6.0, just recently released, is the current iteration of this e-mail client, a product of Qualcomm, Inc. It is available from www.eudora.com at no charge in a "light" version or a full-featured "sponsored" version (which carries a postage-stamp-sized ad window and a small banner window in the toolbar), or for $39.95 (upgrade) or $49.95 (new purchaser) for the no-ads full-featured version, which includes access to person-to-person technical support, 12 months of upgrades, and SpamWatch, Eudora’s built-in anti-spam application. Eudora 6 will run on Windows 95 and above, Mac OS 9, and Mac OS X and above. It works with any ISP that uses standard Internet e-mail protocols (POP3 or MAPI) and seamlessly downloads mail from my office Microsoft Exchange server. The previous version, Eudora 5.2, was recognized at the 2003 CeBIT conference as the number-one-rated email software and, in July 2003, received PC World’s World Class award. A separate free product, the Eudora Internet Suite 2.1, is available for the Palm OS and allows you to synch your Eudora mail with your Palm OS-driven PDA.

In Eudora, you can establish multiple "personalities," one for each e-mail account you have, as well as additional personalities to accommodate the in-house SMTP (outgoing) mail servers used in hotels and other facilities with their own internal broadband LAN for guests. No matter how many e-mail accounts you may have that Eudora can handle, Eudora’s default settings drop all incoming mail from all your e-mail accounts to your one in-box. In addition, Eudora allows you to create different types of "stationery" to use as forms for your outgoing e-mail messages, and different "signatures" to embed at the end of those messages.

I have configured my Eudora to have a plethora of mail files and folders. For example, I have a folder entitled "Clients," with subfolders for each company in my organization, and a mail file in each company subfolder for each matter I am handling. I have another folder entitled "Barstuff," with subfolders for each bar association in which I am active, sub-subfolders for each entity in the association in which I am active, and a mail file in each of those sub-subfolders as needed. The list goes on, with such granularity as you may require.

Eudora allows you to establish filters for your incoming mail—similar to the way Outlook Express uses rules to filter mail on your computer and Outlook uses rules to filter mail on the server. The most obvious application of filtering is to route spam and other junk mail to the trash file. Eudora’s filters are very powerful, allowing you to automatically filter incoming and/or outgoing mail, and to manually filter any mail, based on two criteria, and to take five different actions on any item of filtered mail. For example, if you are going to be absent from the office and unable to access to your e-mail (e.g., hiking the John Muir Trail or river rafting on the Colorado River) and are having someone cover a particular matter for you, assuming you leave your computer on and Eudora active, you can set a filter to identify all mail from your opposing counsel [filtered on from field] concerning this matter [filtered on subject field]. You then can set the filter to have a copy forwarded to your covering attorney, to your assistant, and to the covering attorney’s assistant [action 1]; redirect a copy to yourself at your web-based mail account (such as Yahoo or Hotmail) [action 2], have a copy printed on your default printer [action 3] for such further action as you may prescribe; have a copy sent to a pending file for your review on your return [action 4]; and have the original message transferred to the relevant matter mail file in the relevant client mail folder [action 5].

I use filters to sort my incoming mail into the relevant mail files, which Eudora then automatically opens to let me know that I have new mail in those files. Eudora also lets me know that I have unread messages in particular files or folders by bolding the folder and file name in the file list window.

Eudora allows you to sort messages in any mail file by any of the available fields shown in the open file window, including sender (in the inbox), addressee (as to sent mail), date/time, status, priority, and user-assigned label. In addition, Eudora allows you to search all messages in one or more or all your Eudora mail files using as many as five different search criteria, thereby facilitating location of that message you know you sent or received but can’t remember where you (mis)filed it.

One of the best features of Eudora is its ease of addressing messages. I use nicknames, entered into Eudora’s address book. A nickname is merely a shorthand reference to the data in the address book entry. For example, I use the initials of lawyers I work with as their nicknames. The address book entry for each also has the individual’s full name and e-mail address and can include contact and other information about the person. If I am sending a message to three of those lawyers, I simply type their initials, separated by commas (e.g., ABC, DEF, GHI) into the "to" line of the message. Eudora substitutes the addressees’ true names and e-mail addresses in the message that is sent. If there is more than one "nickname" starting with that set of initials (e.g. ABC, ABCHome), Eudora opens a dialog box and allows me to select which of them I want to use.

Even better, Eudora allows you to create mailing lists in your address book that will hide the names and addresses of the addressees, saving you from having to enter all of the names into the "bcc" field to avoid the long list of addressees in the messages that are received. For example, I recently handled a complex case involving 37 different lawyers. I created an address entry in my address book "nicknamed" XYZ Lawyers, with the full name "All Counsel in XYZ Litigation." In the e-mail address field in the address book, I listed the names and e-mail addresses of all the lawyers, using the format
"John Q. Lawyer"

When sending a message to that list, I would simply enter "XYZ Lawyers" in the "to" field of the message. A copy of the message would be distributed to each of them by my outgoing mail server. As received, the addressee block of the message only would state "All Counsel in XYZ Litigation:;" because Eudora automatically puts a colon at the beginning, and a semicolon at the end, of the list of addressees, and the outgoing mail server ignores everything between those two punctuation marks when filling in the "to" field of the message it sends out into the Internet, but looks to everything between those two punctuation marks for routing the message.

New in Eudora 6.0 are an optional junk mail filter; a content concentrator allowing you to trim redundant headers and text in the message window and to view all threaded messages (sent, forwarded, or redirected to you about the same subject or from the same sender) as a single message in the preview pane; an SMTP relay feature, allowing you to specify and select an alternative outgoing mail server to use when you are not connected to your primary ISP; contextual filing, allowing you to highlight a word in any message, right-click on the word, and transfer the message to the mailbox of the same name as the word; and a format painter, allowing you to copy text and paragraph styles from one place to another.

AOL Communicator
If you use AOL, you historically could only use AOL’s proprietary e-mail system with all of its idiosyncrasies and limitations until you migrate to or add another ISP (Internet Service Provider). The recent introduction of AOL Communicator, however, may stem the hemorrhage of AOL members to other ISPs by offering AOL members the features traditionally available only in other e-mail clients. AOL Communicator is a standalone advanced communications application that brings together e-mail, instant messaging, a full-featured address book that automatically synchronizes with your AOL Address Book, and personalization into one integrated application. It allows you to unify all your AOL, POP, and IMAP accounts in an easy-to-use yet powerful package. Folders and filters let you organize mail automatically, and it includes a powerful Bayesian spam filter. It also integrates nicely with AOL’s enhanced instant messaging client, AIM. Unfortunately, AOL Communicator doesn’t mimic the near-perfect email formatting of Mozilla (Netscape Communicator), which it otherwise closely resembles. Instead, the plain text handling in Communicator is as deficient as Outlook’s (with misplaced ‘>’ characters and line breaks). AOL Communicator runs on all versions of Windows since Win98 and on Mac OS X.

Spam Control
According to MessageLabs, a UK-based security company, average e-mail traffic contains more spam than computer viruses. Industry sources claim that, by last May, spam had overtaken legitimate e-mail in the workplace, constituting 51 percent of all e-mail received by businesses today. To eliminate the time-sink involved in manually screening your inbox and deleting spam, or in creating filters to automatically divert spam to your trash file, consider adding an anti-spam application to your e-mail client. Remember, however, that anti-spam applications are not perfect, so you still will need to review your spam file to assure that nothing important has been screened out and to thereby fine-tune the application. Here are some of the available anti-spam applications:

Norton AntiSpam™ 2004

Norton AntiSpam™ 2004 (Norton) from Symantec Corporation ( www.symantec.com), for Windows 98 and above, works with any standard POP3 and SMTP compatible e-mail client and has just received Editors’ Choice Awards from CNET and ZDNet (October 2003). Norton filters incoming mail on multiple levels, detecting and flagging unsolicited messages while promptly delivering valid mail. The application also blocks intrusive pop-up and banner ads. According to reviewers, Norton is not only one of the simplest anti-spam utilities to set up and use, it’s also one of the best, consistently stopping 95 percent of the junk with almost no mistakes (when only operating at its default setting of Moderate), blocking legitimate e-mail less than 3 percent of the time. Unfortunately, as is the case with other Norton applications, AntiSpam™ 2004 reportedly causes crashes in Outlook and Outlook Express.

Norton automatically installs itself inside your e-mail client; you don’t have to change server settings or reconfigure your software. If you’re using multiple identities, Norton installs itself in each identity, something McAfee’s SpamKiller 5.0 won’t do. It is the only application that integrates fully into Outlook, Outlook Express, and Eudora without any hassles by adding spam-fighting functions to their toolbars. It even will filter mail from your MSN® and Hotmail® accounts (if you use Outlook 2003 to access them), and the fee-based version of Yahoo Mail (if you use a POP e-mail client to access it).

Within your e-mail client, you’ll find a new drop-down menu with four simple commands. When you check mail, Norton sorts messages inside your e-mail client and stashes suspected junk in a separate folder with the phrase "[Norton AntiSpam]" inserted in the subject line. When you encounter spam Norton missed, highlight it and select "This is spam" from the drop-down menu; the messages are shuttled into the junk folder and the sender is sent to your Blocked list. When Norton stops something it shouldn’t, you follow the same process, but the menu option changes to "This is not spam," the address is added to your Allowed list, and the message is returned to your inbox. You can process multiple messages at the same time, something you cannot do with SpamKiller.

Norton AntiSpam™ 2004 is available directly from Symantec at $39.95 for a single-platform license, $179.95 for a 5-user small-office pack, and $319.95 for a 10-user small office pack. Other online vendors offer small discounts. The license includes one year of Norton’s LiveUpdate™ service, which automatically checks for new protection updates when you’re online.

Spam Inspector™ 4.0

Spam Inspector™ 4.0 from Giant Company Software, Inc. ( www.giantcompany.com) works with Outlook 2000 and above, Outlook Express 5 and above, Eudora 5.1 and above, Incredimail, and even Hotmail (if accessed via Microsoft’s Internet Explorer). Spam Inspector™’s technology includes a peer-to-peer-based artificially intelligent learning platform using statistical, natural language semantics and Bayesian filters. The application claims to remove tracking bugs from e-mail and can be configured to block or delete images from pornographic spam. Unlike the integrated blocking feature built into Norton AntiSpam™ 2004, however, you will need to download and install a copy of the free Spam Inspector Companion to block pop-up and banner ads. Spam Inspector™ was awarded 5 stars and the Best Buy Award from Laptop Magazine earlier this year and was favorably reviewed by Smart Computing Magazine (November 2003). Giant Company Software claims an installed base of over 350,000 users, including the U.S. Supreme Court, Cornell University, the United Nations, and United Airlines. An evaluation version can be downloaded for free, and the software currently can be purchased online for $19.95 with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Other Anti-Spam Applications

SpamKiller 5.0 from McAfee, a business unit of Network Associates, Inc. ( www.mcafee.com), runs on Windows 98 and above, integrates directly with Outlook and Outlook Express, and works with POP3, MAPI, or MSN/Hotmail e-mail accounts. It currently does not filter AOL, Yahoo, or other web-based e-mail accounts. It is available for $34.95 for an annual subscription, $39.99 for a downloaded copy, $49.99 plus shipping for a boxed product.

Qurb™ 2.0 from Qurb, Inc. ( www.qurb.com) supports Microsoft Outlook Express 5.5 and 6.0, Microsoft Outlook 2000, Microsoft Outlook XP, and Microsoft Outlook 2003. Qurb™ 2.0 received the PC Magazine Editors’ Choice award (May 2003). It is available from Qurb at $29.95 for a single platform, and $39.95 for a "work and home" license. Volume discounts are available for quantities of five or more licenses.

Outlook 2003, part of the just-released Office 2003 suite, incorporates very powerful anti-spam features of its own. In his October 17, 2003, column, David Coursey, the Executive Editor of ZDNet’s Anchor Desk, after using Outlook for 2003 for a month on multiple machines, claims that he is sufficiently satisfied with the incorporated anti-spam features that he has uninstalled the rest of his anti-spam arsenal.

Bane or Blessing?
If you take the time to learn and to use all of the features included in most modern e-mail clients, particularly fully featured versatile e-mail clients like Eudora, you will find that managing your e-mail will be a breeze, and you will come to rely on it for most, if not all, of your written communications. Then you likely will conclude, as I have, that e-mail is not a bane, but a blessing.


J. Anthony Vittal ( tony.vittal@abanet.org), a business trial lawyer, is the newly appointed General Counsel of Credit.Com, Inc., in San Francisco, California. A former member of the ABA Standing Committee on Technology and Information Systems and a member of various technology-oriented committees of ABA Sections, he speaks and writes frequently on legal technology topics.

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