General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionSolo Newsletter


By jennifer j. rose

Click the word "Subscribe," and the world is at your fingertips. Information delivered right to your desktop, day and night, free of charge! Answers from the experts! An instant community of adoring friends and colleagues, and the hearty challenge of debate! The thrill of victory when you chime in with the right answer (although "giving back to the profession" is your altruistic excuse). Imagine attending CLE in your bathrobe, never leaving your office.

List Serves are seductive; there’s no question about it. And if you can handle e-mail, you can manage the mailing lists represented by this electronic noun. The trouble is, there are so many to choose from: law practice management, aviation finance, RICO forfeitures, blind lawyers, breast cancer litigation, TimeMatters, bioethics, Colorado divorce law, and on and on.

Simply downloading messages from all List Serves relevant to your practice could be more than a full-time job. Who’s got time to read all of those messages? Mailing lists convey an urgency that’s just not part of words printed on acid-free paper. You wouldn’t think of reading every single case in every single topic in every single jurisdiction reported in Westlaw. But have them delivered straight to you, absolutely free, and you’ll notice a compulsion to subscribe to every pertinent list or read every message sent.

A few self-imposed rules can make your life much easier and free up time for actually practicing law:

1. Scan a day or week’s worth of a List Serve at one sitting, saving only relevant messages for perusal. A Tennessee lawyer really has no business reading a message called "Looking for counsel in Idaho."

2. Many lists have archives of prior messages that enable searching through discussion threads. Even better are archives that are searchable.

3. Some lists have timesaving FAQs (frequently asked questions) compiled from prior posts.

4. Drop in and drop out: Ask your question, then bid adieu.

5. Keep track of your List Serves by saving the welcome message. Unsubscribe if a busy period, vacation, or even a weekend offline beckon.

6. Update frequently. Last season’s noise-ridden list may now reflect a serious tone.

7. Decide how many lists really are relevant to your practice, and winnow down your subscriptions to the essentials. Hold "auditions" before joining, allowing a week to size up a list’s relevance.

8. Be miserly with your reading time.

9. Stifle the urge to respond to every mailing list query just because you know the answer. List Serves are not Jeopardy!

Mailing lists can be a version of this millenium’s Cheers hangout, a genuine time-sink, or a wealth of essential and timely information. Be sure that you’re in charge of picking your definition.

jennifer j. rose is a lawyer-writer living in Mexico, reaping mail from too many List Serves at She writes a monthly column, "Mailing List Review," for Internet Law Researcher



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