March 03, 2011

FYI: E-Mail For Lawyers

E-mail is an indispensable tool for attorneys today. According to the 2007 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report, 97% of respondents said they use e-mail at work for routine correspondence, and more than 70% of respondents said they use e-mail for case status and memoranda/briefs. E-mail is also used by many attorneys for client billing, marketing, and court filing.
While e-mail is easy to get -- if you have internet access chances are you already have an e-mail account -- getting an e-mail account that'll work for you professionally requires some extra thought and planning. Here are our tips:
  • Separate your work and home e-mail. There are a lot of reasons this is a good idea: reserving an e-mail address for work only may help you reduce junk e-mail ("spam") at work, it'll make your record keeping easier, you're less likely to miss an important work email, and it lets you avoid handing out your personal e-mail to strangers.

  • Use your name or the name of your firm. looks a lot more professional than

  • Avoid "free" email services if possible. E-mail services such as Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail are great choices for personal e-mail, but they tend to look unprofessional -- especially if the free e-mail host automatically inserts advertising at the bottom of your e-mails.

  • Use your own domain name. If you have your own web site already, there's a good chance your web host offers e-mail addresses at your domain name (e.g. as part of your hosting. If you don't already have a domain name for your organization or firm, consider getting one: they're inexpensive (under $10 per year at many registrars) and some of them offer e-mail free with the domain registration or at a minimal cost (e.g. GoDaddy, which offers fully featured e-mail at your domain name for just $10/month).

  • Think about records retention. Many records management solutions will handle e-mail as well as the other documents generated in your practice.

  • Keep up with your e-mail! A recent study by Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems found that typical users expect a response to their e-mail within 24 hours. Thus, it's important that you check your e-mail at least daily and try to respond to all incoming e-mails within 24 hours -- even if it's just to tell the person that you received the email and will reply more thoroughly soon. If you're going to be out of the office for more than a day, most e-mail providers or software will allow you to activate an "Out of Office" mode that will automatically reply to incoming e-mails and inform the person that you're away from the office.