Moderate Your Thoughts When Sending E-mail

Most of the time, e-mail feels like the best way to communicate with clients and opposing counsel. Many times, however, a phone call is a more efficient way to resolve an issue.

One major problem with e-mail is that it feels less formal and less personal, which tricks many people into writing things that they would never say. E-mail is not an excuse to fly off the handle; be sure to moderate your thoughts.

E-mails are a written record—good and bad

E-mails between opposing counsel tend to appear in discovery motions, fee petitions, and even Rule 11 motions. Regardless of whether you think you are right or wrong, e-mails are self-explanatory evidence.

For example, during a phone call with opposing counsel they screamed, called you names, and acted generally unprofessional. In response, you typed out a emotional e-mail detailing why you hate working with them. Even if your e-mail was 25% as bad as what they said, that e-mail will show up in a motion. You can always submit an affidavit, but an e-mail is a written record—there is no arguing about what it says.

E-mails are easy to misinterpret

My sense of humor is rather dry and sarcastic—which never translates well to e-mail. Conveying the right tone can be a tricky thing to do over e-mail. When you combine that with already contentious relationship between opposing parties, that can be a recipe for disaster.

If you receive an e-mail that sends you into a tizzy, do not send an immediate response. Let it be and come back to it later. Many times, you are simply misreading an e-mail. When you read it later, it does not seem nearly as offensive.

Be clear and concise in your e-mails. To the best of your ability, avoid using emotional words or trying to imply or incite a emotional response. Otherwise, you might find some that some of your choice words are attached to an affidavit and part of the public record.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rustie/4452826127)

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  • Lawrence Berezin

    Randall,
    Wise words, indeed. I think we’ve all launched emails, and regretted them afterwords. Any thoughts on legal stationary as email stationary?

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      If by “e-mail stationery” you mean using graphics in e-mails to mimic your paper stationery, I’d say skip it. It rarely comes off well, and it mostly gunks up correspondence. It’s one thing if you are sending an e-mail newsletter. It’s quite another if you are actually trying to correspond with someone.

    • http://feeds2.feedburner.com/caveatemptorblog/rss Randall Ryder

      I’m with Sam—if you are talking about adding graphics and fancy signatures, I would avoid that if possible. Check out this post on e-mail signatures: http://lawyerist.com/email-signature-block/

      • Lawrence Berezin

        Sam and Randall,
        Good morning, and thanks for your replies.
        I am talking about real, live, lawyers stationery, reduced to fit an email.

        I received an email reply with full stationery from an adversary, recently, and didn’t know what to make of it. I didn’t have a great reaction. This is the reason I was asking.

        I’m glad this isn’t a new trend in email stationary for lawyers. Personally, I’ll stick to simple formats with simple communication. I’ll leave my “battles” for the courtroom.

        Thank you both.

        • http://feeds2.feedburner.com/caveatemptorblog/rss Randall Ryder

          Interesting. If it was an attachment, I could see sending a letter via e-mail for convenience. But if it was in the body of the e-mail, that sounds very odd.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/getcentricecm/ Rafael Moscatel

    I agree with most of the advice in this posting and have a suggestion of my own… attorneys should focus on “controlling the conversation” from the first email and nip any tangent in the bud, in other words keep it short. There are few things less inefficient than using a 100 emails to explain what you could have in a 5 minutes over the phone. Firms should save their swagger and best strategies for their filings and court appearances and return to the element of surprise. Firms that seem reserved in terms of the extent of their written communications are often seen as more prudent than opposing counsel. Email facilitates impulsive behavior, and the best ones understand that. The less you say the better are you off in the long run. I have to agree with you however that it is best to keep messages simple and never emotional.

    • http://feeds2.feedburner.com/caveatemptorblog/rss Randall Ryder

      Agreed. I am not a fan of receiving a de facto brief in an e-mail. If there is that much to say about a topic, picking up the phone is a better practice.