The primary form of communication used by lawyers today is e-mail. When a young lawyer is starting out, it is unlikely that his office orientation includes guidance on how to send professional e-mails. Below are 10 tips for young lawyers when sending work-related e-mails.
- Use formalities. E-mails should include complete sentences and thoughts, correct grammar, and a salutation and closing. Formal language should be used, not slang. Do not forget to proofread!
- Confirm recipients and e-mail addresses before sending. Make sure that you include everyone who needs to be included on a particular e-mail. Also, make sure you are not including those who should be excluded. It is important to confirm the correct e-mail address of the recipient before hitting “send.” Especially if it is an important e-mail, you do not want the communication lost in cyberspace. The auto-fill feature in most e-mail applications can fill in a different recipient than intended, and this error can be overlooked in haste.
- Include the important portion in the beginning. Whether you are e-mailing the partner in your office regarding an internal memorandum or a client, everyone is busy, and having to read a long e-mail can be daunting. Therefore, it is good practice to include the most significant part of the e-mail or a brief summary in the first few lines. In this way, the recipient can tell from the first few lines of the e-mail whether he or she needs to continue reading.
- Use a descriptive subject line. A descriptive subject line is helpful for a number of reasons. A description aids the recipient in determining the content of the e-mail and its level of importance. Also, when digging through archived e-mails, it will be easier to locate a particular e-mail.
- Avoid inappropriate comments, language, and jokes. Consider who will end up seeing the e-mail. E-mails can be easily forwarded to an unintended recipient. To be safe, avoid inappropriate comments and language, as well as jokes, which can be easily misinterpreted.
- Consolidate e-mail requests. Attempt to consolidate information and requests into as few e-mails as possible. Having his inbox flooded is frustrating for the recipient. This practice also decreases the risk that an important e-mail will get lost in the shuffle.
- Close the e-mail. As mentioned in tip #1, ending the e-mail with a closing is preferred. Also, ending the e-mail with your contact information is suggested, so that the recipient can easily contact you by address or telephone, if necessary, without having to e-mail you again for your contact information or search the Internet.
- Promptly return e-mails. To keep clients (and others involved) content, prompt responses to e-mails are necessary. If possible, you should try to respond to e-mails within 24 hours of receipt or sooner.
- Consider using a telephone call or an in-person meeting in lieu of an e-mail. Details are often left out of an e-mail, and information can be lost in translation. Sometimes, you and others are better served by discussion by telephone or an in-person meeting.
- Be careful when e-mailing on a mobile device. Admittedly, it is convenient to e-mail from your mobile device when outside of the office, but it increases the possibility of transmitting typographical errors to the recipient.
Finally, remember to remain formal, mindful, and prompt when sending professional e-mails.