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November 16, 2018 Practice Points

Dear Attorneys (and Other Humans): Write Better Emails

Think and write like a businessperson. It will save time and earn you favor with clients.

By Kailee Goold

We all read a lot of emails.

As in-house litigation counsel, I read a lot of emails drafted by attorneys. It seems that some of them believe that dense, legalese-ridden emails help prove that their hourly rates are worth it.

Not the case.

Be the outside counsel that makes our lives easier. We will like working with you and give you more of our work.

To help, here are a few tips for attorneys to keep in mind when communicating with their in-house counterparts (or anyone, really).

Tell Us What You Need and When You Need It
If you need something, let us know in the first few lines. And be explicit. Don't bury it at the bottom of paragraph four—we won't find it.

For example, I often write emails starting with a sentence that begins "Bottom Line" or "Question" where I describe exactly what I need or am asking and when I need it. I follow that line with a brief bulleted list under the heading "More Details."

It's short and sweet and if people have questions or need more information, they'll ask.

If you don't need anything from us and are providing a status update or an FYI email, tell us that at the start, too.

Use the Subject Line to Its Fullest Potential
Efficiency bonus points are earned by telling us what you need—if anything—and when, in the subject line.


  • FYI Only - Status Update on Case X
  • Response Needed by 3/13: Review Motion to Dismiss
  • New FL Case Filed re Product Z | Need Outside Counsel?
  • URGENT Meeting to Discuss April 8 Deposition

In-house coverage is mile wide, inch deep. We rarely spend an hour at a time on one case or issue. Descriptive subject lines help us prioritize and get us in the right head space for your email. It also helps us get you what you need quicker.

Make It Reader-Friendly
The ideal email is one that we can forward without having to spend time searching for the point and editing so that the business will read it.

Remember: Most in-house attorneys (and businesspeople) don't write briefs and we avoid reading them when we can. We are used to executive business communication styles. Short and clear sentences. Lots of PowerPoint. Formatting with headings, bullets, and certainly no Latin.

You know what types of articles your eyes have an easy time reading, and which you skip over due to the dense text. Apply these same rules to your emails.

In response, outside counsel often say, "but it is all important and we need to explain everything." These folks are missing the point. Our job is to provide direct advice to the business. In other words: We have to take your 2,000-word email and distill it into three bullet points that are helpful, reader-friendly chunks of information that drive toward a decision point.

My Plea
When you are ready to provide a recommendation or sit down to write an email to your client, please leave your brief- and memo-writing habits aside. Think and write like a businessperson. It will save you (and me) time and earn you favor with clients.

Kailee Goold (@kaileegoold) is senior litigation counsel with Cardinal Health in the Columbus, Ohio, area.

Copyright © 2018, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).