October 23, 2012


Law Practice Magazine

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March 2009 Issue | Volume 35 Number 2 | Page 43


You've likely received a "Message Recall" e-mail at some point. They have a Subject line that looks like this: Reid Trautz would like to recall the message "You won't believe what Dan Pinnington said." The text within the quote marks is the Subject line of the original message-the one the sender wants recalled.

Many e-mail systems, including the widely used Microsoft/Outlook Exchange Server and IBM Lotus Notes/Domino Server, offer a Message Recall feature. This feature is supposed to delete unread copies of the recalled message from the recipients’ inboxes so they never see it.

When does one make use of Message Recall?

Usually when you are in a minor to major panic in one of these scenarios:

  • You send a message without the attachment that you wanted to include.
  • You send a message when you are mad or upset and 20 minutes later you realize your words were nasty or inappropriate and you want those words back.
  • You realize after you’ve sent something that it was addressed to the wrong person. The level of panic in this scenario can go sky-high if the message had confidential or sensitive information in it.

Message Recall could be a real blessing — afterall, it’s specifically designed to help fix embarrassing or even costly mistakes. But I have some bad news: In most cases the Message Recall feature doesn’t work, meaning your e-mail server won’t remove the recalled message from the inbox of the people that received it.

And on top of that, keep this in mind: By even sending a Message Recall e-mail notice, you are pretty much screaming to everyone that gets this notice that they want to immediately open and read the very message you don’t want them to read.

HOW TO AVERT THE PROBLEM So when and why won’t a Message Recall work on different e-mail systems? At the risk of oversimplifying, among other things it depends on these factors: the settings that have to be enabled in your e-mail client; the settings that have to be enabled on your e-mail server; whether the recipient has already opened the message; and whether it has gone to an Internet e-mail address or a mail server outside of your office. (In the last case, you’re almost always out of luck so don’t even bother trying a Message Recall.)

If you want the technical details for configuring recall settings on MS Outlook/Exchange Servers, see http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/outlook/HA010917601033.aspx. For IBM Lotus Notes and Domino V8, see www.ibm.com/developerworks/lotus/library/notes8-recall.

But let’s suffice it to say that odds of the settings and circumstances working out so that Message Recall could in fact pull back an errant message are about as rare as a total lunar eclipse. (I’ll save you a trip to Wikipedia — that would be on average about twice a year.) So then, how do you avoid ever having to wish that Message Recall would actually work and save your career?

Every time you are about to hit Send, pause for a second and ask yourself three simple questions:

  • Do I have the correct persons in the To, Cc and Bcc lines?
  • Did I attach the file I want to send?
  • Have I said anything that shouldn’t go out in an e-mail? (If you’re not 100 percent sure, save the message to your Drafts folder and review it after you’ve cooled off.)

Practice safe e-mail, everyone.

About the Author

Dan Pinnington is Director of practicePRO at the Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company (LAWPRO) in Toronto. He is Law Practice’ s Editor-in-Chief.