In today’s smartphone world, opposing counsel and potential clients expect fast responses to e-mails.

If you’re going on vacation or will be unable to access e-mail, turn on your auto-responder and provide the right information.

The good

“I will be out of the office until September 20, 2012 and will not have access to voicemail or e-mail. If you need immediate assistance, please contact NAME at NUMBER.”

In my humble opinion, you should only turn on an auto-responder if you will be gone for an extended period of time and/or will not have access to e-mail. I define extended period as at least two business days.

Assuming that criteria is met, your auto-responder should provide the following information:

1. How long you will be gone;
2. Who the sender should contact instead of you (if applicable); and
3. Whether you will have any access to voicemail/e-mail.

Language like “I will have limited access to voicemail and e-mail” sends mixed signals. Does that mean you will respond to e-mails? Does that mean you are still working? Whenever I see that language, I assume the recipient will respond, but slower than usual. The bottom line is that it is not entirely clear and may cause more problems than good.

The bad

“Thank you for your e-mail, I am currently out of the office.”

Auto-responders with little or no information are frustrating. I have no idea what the above example means. Until when? Who should I contact instead? Do you still practice law? When will you be able to respond?

It’s better than nothing, but it could a lot more helpful. In today’s day and age, opposing counsel seems to expect a response to an e-mail that same day and definitely within two days. Clients likely have the same expectation. Potential clients usually want a response ASAP, so letting them know you are gone is a good idea. But be sure to include enough information to make it helpful.

The ugly

“Hi there. I’m not around right now. I’m headed on vacation and will try and avoid e-mail and voicemail. The following week, I will have limited access to voicemail, so if this is an emergency, please call my cellphone. If this is Susan, sorry about the last minute change.”

To be honest, I recently saw an auto-responder just like that. That’s information overload, confusing, and generally unhelpful. I don’t want to make a flow chart in order to understand whether I will get a response this year. One, there are no dates. Two, it’s not clear if the person will check e-mail and/or voicemail. Three, there is no emergency contact. Four, you should never assume people have your personal cellphone number. Lastly, Susan should be sent a separate e-mail if she needs to know something.

Not rocket science

If you’re going to be gone, turn on your auto-responder. Let people know how long you will be gone, whether you will/can access e-mail, and who to contact if necessary.

I promise it will make the world a better place, one e-mail at a time.

(photo:http://www.flickr.com/photos/jlgosalbez/3901133600/)