American Bar Association
General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division

Solo
Winter 2003 vol. 9 Number 2

Convincing Others You're a Perfect Idiot with E-Mail

By Jennifer J. Rose

Who hasn't received e-mail like this? The subject line is blank, and there's absolutely no reference to prior correspondence. "Loophole Louie" thinks his moniker and e-mail address are downright clever. Now, if I hadn't received e-mail before from Loophole, I'd probably delete the message without opening it. Fortunately (or not), I know Loophole, so I open it. And I can almost always predict what it will contain: absolutely nothing understandable.

In real life, Louie's a great lawyer, a gentleman, and a scholar, widely respected by his peers. He may have been the first in his law school class and the last to touch a keyboard, but his e-mail privileges ought to be permanently revoked. Poor Louie. Not realizing that his e-mail has the lifespan of toxic waste, he commits digital sins that he'd never inflict upon his finest engraved Crane's Crest watermarked bond.

Where did Louie go wrong?

1. His computer is set to the wrong year, ensuring that his message will be buried in the recipient's inbox, away from the current mail.

2. He's mixed business with pleasure. Nicknames and cute e-mail addresses are fine for personal e-mails, but should never appear on business correspondence.

3. Louie's use of a MSN Hotmail address signals to his clients and other lawyers that he considers e-mail a disposable medium. For all we know, his office phone could be a pay phone at the local Laundromat. Even if he changes ISPs with the frequency of his socks, he could obtain a classier e-mail alias such as abanet.org, available to ABA members at www.abanet.org/mo/emailguide.html.

4. The subject line should never be left blank.

5. E-mail deserves the same attention to spelling, grammar, and proofreading that would be paid to regular correspondence.

6. The body of his message only hints at prior correspondence. What is perfectly clear to Louie creates a guessing game for the recipient. At the very least, quote the prior correspondence below.

7. In his dash to jot off e-mail in his bathrobe in the middle of the night, Louie has forgotten that the recipient may be asleep and not download the message until much later. E-mail isn't a substitute for other forms of communication. Sometimes the telephone or fax is a better method for getting across an urgent message.

8. In the early days of e-mail, ASCII art and inspirational quotes marked the sender as sophisticated and intellectual. Today, those add-ons are simply detritus, contributing nothing to the message. All of the time Louie spent hunting down a Voltaire quote would've been better spent in creating a simple signature that reveals his real name, address, and phone number.

9. Would Louie dare send out the same correspondence on his office letterhead? If there was any doubt in the recipient's mind about his capabilities, his e-mail certainly resolved that, and not in Louie's favor. The style and tenor of his e-mail makes the reader wonder if he sends out office correspondence scrawled on a napkin from a fast-food restaurant.

In his rush to embrace e-mail, Loophole has forgotten his manners. E-mail is a quick and cheap means of communication, but that doesn't mean that the basics of written correspondence should be tossed aside. Who doesn't know a clown like Louie who's trashed his reputation with sloppy and rude e-mail?

jennifer j. rose, editor-in-chief of GPSolo, scrutinizes others' e-mail at jenniferrose@abanet.org.


 

 

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