I’ve signed up for one of my state bar association’s email listservs about five times in three years. I’ve subscribed five times because I’ve unsubscribed four. If you don’t know what a listserv is, the Pennsylvania Bar Association describes it as “an internet-based discussion group of individual subscribers. Discussions are accomplished through the use of e-mail.”

Listservs can be a good way to get some questions answered by attorneys that love answering questions (both correctly and incorrectly), but they can also be giant pains-in-the-ass.

Yay for Listserv!

Many states have multiple listservs, each dedicated specifically to one area of law. There are also some national listservs out there tailored to subscribers with common interests like “solo/small” law practice. By subscribing to a listserv, you get the benefit of receiving emails discussing updates in your field, difficult client scenarios and substantive discussions about nuanced state law in your field. If you are a relatively new attorney—as I am—a listserv can be a highly valuable learning tool because it’s an opportunity for you to hear about what is happening in your field.

Subscribing to a listserv also enables you to ask questions. I’ve written before about the value in asking stupid questions, and that principal still holds here. Often, when presented with a particular problem in your practice, you won’t know anyone who can directly answer your question or possibly even point you in the right direction. That’s where the listserv can come in. If you have a question that you can’t crack, you can send an email to scores of attorneys that are willing to answer your question. Advantage you.

You also aren’t alone in your need to ask questions. There are lots of other attorneys—new and old—tapping this resource for information, so it’s a great opportunity to learn where other lawyers get their answers. In my experience, folks are pretty good at showing their work in these email threads, so it allows you to go along for the ride. The really boring and very nerdy ride of knowledge. Pro-tip: If you keep all of these emails, you can also just search old email threads to see if a current question you have has been answered previously.

Boo to Listserv!

Do you love getting emails? I mean, like ALL the emails in the world? Then do I have a treat for you! If, however, you don’t love getting 20 emails a day, then you may occasionally get irritated after you join the a listserv.

In a previous post, I noted a recent study that checking emails while working makes you dumber than someone on drugs doing the same kind of work. If you have the same kind of Pavlovian “STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING, YOU HAVE EMAIL” response that I normally do, your workday may be in for a whole lot of interruptions if you subscribe to one or more lists.

I know other lawyers that specifically dedicated a new email address for these emails to alleviate the constant interruptions. I personally tried using Gmail filters to accomplish the same goal. Either of these is a better alternative than having a flood of emails in your inbox about joint-tenancy issues or some new bankruptcy case procedure, but it can still be a pain.

This is also fairly nitpicky, but if you are new to your field, you may dread reading through these emails because they will make you feel dumb and inadequate. Much of the time, the people providing answers to difficult questions on these email chains are well-reputed and very experienced attorneys. Reading over the ease with which they dissect the problems in these emails is not unlike watching Ken Jennings on “Jeopardy!;” you feel inexperienced, lost, and simple. These are discouraging feelings if you’ve never had them.

Joining up with one of your state’s listservs is still probably worth it. Aggravating, but worth it. The best advice I can give you is to make plans for the thousands of emails you’ll be getting, and be prepared to feel like an idiot. Also be prepared to learn quite a bit.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/smilla4/4193154902/)