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June 2002
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Small & Home Office

The Fine Art of E-Mail Etiquette

The Fine Art of E-Mail Etiquette Editor's note: This article originally was sent as a memo to the staff of Burke, Williams & Sorenson L.L.P., a Los Angeles firm that focuses on corporate law, business litigation, and public law. Thanks to partner Rufus Young for submitting it to Law Technology News.

From the Technology Committee of Burke, Williams & Sorenson L.L.P.

E-MAIL IS AN integral part of our practice. As we become more e-mail proficient, however, there is sometimes a tendency to over-use or misuse e-mail within the firm. The Technology Committee has requested and gathered input from partners, I.T. staff, and others, to come up with an e-mail protocol list. This list is not all-inclusive. Most of these items do not rise to the level of being "BWS policies," but are good suggestions for your consideration to avoid inconveniencing others and unduly burdening our computer systems and equipment.

Please incorporate them into your normal e-mail routine.

1. Be discriminating and make conscious selections in determining to whom you send an e-mail.

It is a common frustration to find dozens of e-mails in our "inbox" that need not have been sent to us. It is also frustrating and inconvenient for users of Blackberry devices and other remote e-mail access devices to have those devices ringing or buzzing each time an e-mail is received, only to find that the e-mail was unnecessary or trivial.

Following are some suggestions:

(a) E-mail intended for a few attorneys should not be sent to all attorneys.

(b) E-mail intended for, or of likely interest to, only a certain Practice Group need not be sent to all attorneys.

(c) E-mail involving or concerning only one office need not be sent to all offices.

(d) The "everyone" address should be used only when truly everyone should know about the matter. Similar discretion should be exercised before using the "attorney" address.

2. Use the "Reply To All" button only when necessary.

The "Reply To All" button on the e-mail tool panel should be used only when everyone who received the initial e-mail should also receive your reply. In most circumstances, that is not the case.

The most common example of misuse of the "Reply To All" button involves responses to e-mails sent to "everyone" or "attorney," such as congratulatory e-mails expressing thanks or admiration for a job well done, or inquiry e-mails seeking information or suggestions regarding a particular situation.

Recipients sometimes push "Reply To All" and respond with "Great Job!" "Well Done" or "Congratulations" and perhaps some additional minor comment, or the response to the inquiry.

If that response were sent only to the party being congratulated or inquiring, such a response is most appropriate and welcome. When that response is sent to everyone who received the original e-mail, however, it is generally felt to be inconvenient, burdensome and unnecessary. The original e-mail sent the main message; the follow-up e-mails sent to everyone simply are not necessary and are burdensome to the recipients and the computer system.

3. Type in a "subject."

When sending an e-mail, please type in the "subject" of the e-mail in the "subject" line of the caption. This greatly assists the reader to more efficiently scan the list of e-mails.

4. Consider deleting previous text when responding.

When replying to an e-mail, especially a lengthy one, consider deleting text or prior portions of the e-mail that need not be included in the reply. Including unnecessary text simply takes up additional space on the network.

5. Print out and file copies of e-mail when appropriate.

Because e-mail correspondence frequently replaces letters or memos that we would otherwise routinely copy and put in the file, it is prudent to print out any e-mails sent or received that contain information pertaining to a file. This can be done by the attorney, or the attorney can forward or bcc his/her secretary and have it printed out by the secretary. In order to facilitate filing, it might be advisable to include the matter number when forwarding an e-mail to be printed. Also, bear in mind that e-mails are subject to the same discovery rules as any other correspondence and even deleted e-mails can be recovered electronically.

The Fine Art of E-Mail Etiquette 6. Consider using the "Confidential" setting.

In the event that you want to make a default setting to consistently mark your e-mails as "confidential," go to Tools, click on Options, then click on Preferences, then E-mail Options, then Advanced E-mail Options, then set Sensitivity, to "confidential."

7. Use signature blocks and confidentiality warnings.

E-mail sent to addressees external to BWS, on BWS business, should bear a signature block, identifying the sender, the sender's BWS office address, BWS e-mail address, the firm Web page URL ( and the sender's telephone number.

It's also a good idea to include in your signature block (or have a separate signature block) that includes the following confidentiality warning or something similar:

The information in this e-mail message is intended for the confidential use of the addressees only. The information is subject to the attorney-client privilege and/or may be attorney work-product. Recipients should not file copies of this e-mail with publicly accessible records. If you are not an addressee or an authorized agent responsible for delivering this e-mail to a designated addressee, you have received this e-mail in error, and any further review, dissemination distribution, copying or forwarding of this e-mail is strictly prohibited. If you received this e-mail in error, please notify us immediately at (213) 236-0600. Thank you.

The Fine Art of E-Mail Etiquette To add this provision to your signature block, or to create a signature block, feel free to contact the I.T.department. Any e-mail sent to addresses external to BWS and not relating to BWS business should not contain the sender's signature block discussed above.

8. Delete old e-mails from all folders periodically.

Each user should periodically delete old e-mails from the inbox and also from their deleted items and sent items folders.

When e-mails are deleted from your inbox they are simply placed into the deleted items folder, and all e-mails you send are retained in the sent items folder, both of which still occupy the same amount of space on our computer system.

By periodically deleting old e-mails from the deleted items and sent items folders, however, we can free up that space on the system to save cost and having to add additional storage space.

A good rule of thumb might be to delete any e-mails from the deleted items and sent items folders that are more than two months old.

This can be done very quickly and easily -- if you do not know how, ask your secretary or any I.T. person.

Special Note: If you receive an e-mail that contains PowerPoint or moving picture attachments, please delete it from both your inbox and deleted items as soon as reasonably possible.

Those attachments consume large amounts of storage space on our system and should be completely removed as soon as possible.

9. Do not use preview panes without approval.

Any use of preview panes to view a portion of your e-mails should be approved by the I.T. department.

The preview pane options automatically open all e-mails you receive without first enabling you to determine the e-mail's source or whether it may contain a virus.

This automatic opening of the e-mail may easily result in an e-mail borne virus infecting your individual PC as well as the entire firm's network.

Burke, Williams & Sorenson L.L.P. is located in Los Angeles.

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