General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionSolo Newsletter

Let the E-mail User Beware

by Robin Page West

Yes, e-mail is a wonderful thing that allows instantaneouswritten communication almost for free with almost anyone almostanywhere. But consider this:

Anything you e-mail can later be used against you, bysomeone you didn't even mail it to. One scenario: you e-mailed afunny but off-color message to a friend, who read it, chuckled,and--you hope--deleted it. But what if your friend pushed the"print multiple copies" button on her screeen and printed outcopies for everyone in her office--with your name as senderemblazoned at the top? Then, she hit the "mail a copy" button andsent it to her favorite newsgroups--again with your name at thetop. Then, mercifully, she deleted the message.

But your friend works at a law firm where automatic tapebackups are made daily. Even though she deleted your joke fromher inbox, it remained in her "saved incoming mail" file that shedidn't even know existed. Later, that file was backed up on tapeand transferred off site for indefinite storage. The same thinghappened at your firm, where the message you thought was gone wasactually sitting in your "saved outgoing mail" file, which wasalso backed up on tape. Years later, when you apply for ajudgeship and your political rivals are looking for ways totorpedo your candidacy, will they find the message?

Did you know that e-mail you or anyone else posts tonewsgroups can be collected later by anyone who goes on theInternet and searches for your e-mail address? Your comments willlive on and be read by anyone who bothers to run an Alta Vistasearch on you, including prospective clients and employers, andeven opposing counsel.

Sure e-mail is the new computer toy that everyone loves toplay with. Send an e-mail this morning; more often than notyou'll find a reply sitting in your box by the end of the day.But when you open the e-mail, what's inside may not be worthmuch. If people don't have time to return your calls, they maynot give their e-mail replies too much time either. Many peopleroutinely send seat-of-the-pants impressions by e-mail.

And such missives can be a real pain. A friend of mine wenton vacation for a week. When he returned, he had 99 e-mailmessages to sift through. He complained to me for days about hisjammed inbox, and I hadn't even sent him a single e-mail.

Robin Page West is a solo practitioner in Baltimore, Maryland,and Editor-in-Chief of Solo.

From Solo, Fall 1996, ABA General Practice, Solo and Small FirmSection. Copyright 1996 American Bar Association.

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