Where Do You Put Email Correspondence to and From Clients?
You already know that email related to your law practice should be treated with the same regard that’s paid to missives printed on that Crane’s Crest engraved letterhead. After all, how many times have you been told to pay attention to the same rules about grammar, punctuation, and style that reflect what kind of lawyer you are? We’re not going to revisit those issues.
But now that you’ve written and sent that email to divorce client Betty Lee, what do you do with it? Email is quicker and cheaper to send, so you find yourself corresponding more with Betty than you might’ve using snail mail. In fact, it’s not unusual for you and Betty to have swapped email several times over the course of the day. Where should you stash that e-mail correspondence?
One lawyer posed that very question to Solosez ( www.solosez.net):
Email is my most used medium for correspondence to and from my clients. I don’t print them to be included in my hardcopy file since they’re brief, and it seems like a waste of paper. I have been using the archival function in my email program to retrieve them when I have needed them. Since I am pretty new, I wonder if I’m missing something that is going to bite me later on. Should I be doing something else? What do you all do?
Let’s look at what some of the 3,323 members of the world’s largest solo and small firm collective had to say:
This may be excessively obvious, but . . . you do make regular backups of this email archive, right?
—Beverly A. West, UC Hastings Law School Class of 2008
You’ve gone and told us that those client emails are just the same as any other client correspondence. Where do you shelve letters to and from your clients? Put those emails in the same place. If you print out dead tree missives to your clients, print out the emails. If you scan and stash everything to PDF, then PDF those emails and put them in the same folder.
It strikes me as just plain nonsense to store correspondence of one type in one place and correspondence of another in another place. Keep it all together!
—jennifer j. rose
This is exactly why I will not, and will *never*, use something like Outlook (which maintains a closed-source, proprietary database format) for email. Thunderbird adheres to open source standards, and archives its emails in plain text format. All I need to do is copy my client email folder to the client directory, and I have a plain text store of correspondence, readable by anything.
—Mike Koenecke, Richardson, Texas
With Outlook, Adobe Acrobat ( www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/) can convert the email and attachments into a PDF package (with the emails being in PDF format and non-PDF attachments in Word and Excel format). And the entire process can be automated. See http://www.accountingweb.co.uk/cgi-bin/item.cgi?id=166797&d=526&h=524&f=525
—Richard Burt, San Jose, California
I’m aware of that (of course, that technique requires that one purchase Acrobat)—and, of course, one can create PDF archives easily from Thunderbird. I still do not like closed-source, proprietary database formats, and I *really* do not like Outlook’s keeping the entire database in one big PST file.
—Mike Koenecke, Richardson, Texas
I use primoPDF ( www.primopdf.com/) to print every email to a PDF document. it’s quick and easy, but the PDFs are not searchable . . .
—Michael J. Bace, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Wouldn’t it be sufficient to simply retain the emails in your email program? Backup the files, and you’ll have them if they’re ever needed. Of course, you can purge the archives consistent with your document destruction schedule.
I can’t imagine printing every email, even to a PDF. Even the simplest matter could generate dozens of emails.
—Andrew Flusche, Fredericksburg, Virginia
Does Thunderbird make the PDF archives ‘itself’ or is it done using Adobe? I used Thunderbird in the past and liked it, but now at a firm that uses Outlook and I cannot use a different program.
Does anyone use Mozilla calender program as well (Sunbird or Lightning)? Any thoughts on either?
—Phil A. Taylor, Burlington, Massachusetts
No, you would have to print using a PDF generator; but there’s really no need for that, since you can just archive in plain text. The SmartSave extension is very slick for that purpose.
I’ve played around some with Sunbird, and it looks quite nice, but (like Chandler, another interesting calendaring project) does not integrate with a contact list well enough to suit me.
—Mike Koenecke, Richardson, Texas
You don’t have to purchase Acrobat to save stuff in PDF. I use CutePDF (www.cutepdf.com/) to print stuff to PDF , which works perfectly for emails or really anything that you want saved in PDF that you wouldn’t have a need to edit later.
—Lesley Hoenig, Morris, Illinois
Or you can be like me . . . I have two computers that I work from regularly. Both computers download the email (it is left on the server). Already, I have one backup from the primary computer. Second, my server allows for a ridiculous amount of storage space for my email, more than Gmail, I believe. So, I have another backup (which I recently had to use when I got my new laptop). Then, I also have access to my email through a Gmail account which automatically archives it again. If all systems bust, then, well, I’m not too worried about what my clients and/or judges and/or malpractice carriers think because we are probably all back in the dark ages anyways. Even if you had printed everything to PDF, you probably can’t get to it if I can’t get to two different Outlooks, my off-site email server, or Gmail.
Now, if they are CYA emails or something really important, I might print to PDF or hard-copy for the file. But that is more the exception than the rule.
—Kimberly DeCarrera, Atlanta, Georgia
Chiming in from Fiji, Solosez subscriber and President of Outlook4Lawyers ( www.outlook4lawyers.com/) Sanjay Singh came up with an even more standardized routine:
Keep a separate folder inside Outlook for each matter/case. When the case/matter is closed, then export/archive the emails out of the folder. Since the emails are all in the same folder it is relatively easy to:
a) Use Adobe to archive all emails into a single PDF file, or
b) Use software similar to our own QuickFile-Lawyers Edition to archive all the emails into a single MS Word document, or
c) Use Outlook’s own built-in features to export the emails to another PST dedicated to that matter/case only.
Take your archived emails (in whatever format you have chosen to use) and put them together with the rest of the electronic documents that you have for the matter.
The advantages of this system are:
- While the matter is still open, it is easy to see all emails relating to it quickly (as they are all in one folder). You can use Outlook’s built-in sorting and searching to quickly view specific -mails.
- While the matter is open, it is easy to still use details of older emails for forwarding, replying etc (if you need to refer to them again), since you still have Outlook’s commands available to the emails.
- After a matter is closed, it is easy to archive your emails with the rest of the documents relating to the case.
Whether you use Outlook, Eudora, Thunderbird, WordPerfect Mail or some other flavor of email program, develop a system. And stick with it. Don’t just leave it in your inbox!
jennifer j. rose, former editor-in-chief of GPSolo and secretary of the GP|Solo Division, receives her email at email@example.com in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico.
© Copyright 2008, American Bar Association.