General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionSolo Newsletter

Fall 1996

E-mail: Come Out and Play

by Mary L. Bryant

E-mail, the latest toy, has all kinds of bells and whistles--compose, reply, reply all, forward, personal address books,personal groups, inbox, folders, subfolders, attach, saveattachment, and other features. We grownups get to play with oure-mail every day.

A few years ago, some of my younger clients started askingme, "So, when are you going to get e-mail?" E-mail? I didn't evenhave a modem. Funny how things change. Today, I couldn't imaginenot having e-mail.

Certainly, e-mail is a good news/bad news form ofcommunication. Some of its downsides will be addressed elsewherein this issue of Solo. But there's a lot of good news surroundinge-mail. Just when your voice-mail is being filled to capacity,along comes e-mail. Now clients can send you instantaneousmessages as long as their hearts desire--never once being toldthey only have 30 seconds left.

The use of e-mail is highly therapeutic, not only forclients but also for lawyers. Your client can "talk" about all ofthose legal questions and concerns that have been keeping him orher from getting a good night's sleep. All he or she has to do istype them up and hit the send button; then, it becomes yourproblem. The client feels instantaneous relief. When you doeventually speak with the client by phone, you'll have had achance to prepare--and the client will be considerably calmer.

Communicating with clients via e-mail has another benefit--you get a written transcript of exactly what your client "said."It's like having a transcript of a phone conversation. All youhave to do is print it out and stick it in the file, where itwill be preserved for time in memoriam.

E-mail is also a great way to communicate with colleagues.I'm amazed at how quickly other lawyers respond to me when I sendthem e-mail compared to how long it takes them to return a phonecall. When I send e-mail to opposing counsel, I usually have aresponse by the end of the day.

If you need a quick answer to a question that is outside ofyour area of expertise, try e-mailing the question to acolleague. I guarantee your response rate will be better than ifyou give him or her a call. (I can't guarantee a better answer,but you'll get one quicker.)

For example, my area of specialization is primarily ERISA,and I often get phone calls from other lawyers who have a "simplelittle pension question." If I can't answer it off the top of myhead, I hem and haw, write it down, and say "I'll get back toyou." Typically, the note quickly gets buried under a stack offiles on my desk.

But if someone sends me a question through e-mail, I readit, look up an answer if I need to, quickly type up my response,and hit the send button. Perhaps the novelty of playing with anew toy still hasn't worn off, and that's why my colleagues and Irespond so quickly to e-mail queries.

Mary L. Bryant is a sole practitioner in Austin, Texas, andassociate editor of Solo. She can be reached by e-mail

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

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