Slow Down! Some Email Etiquette Tips

November 2, 2013

While email offers speed and accessibility, one of the best pieces of advice I give law students is “slow down!” Before you make an error, forward recklessly, or engage in a fight with opposing counsel via email, take these simple steps to slow down:

  • Draft a reply, but do not fill in the “To” section. This will help you avoid sending the response by mistake. Draft a response but do not send it right away. Sleep on it. Contrary to the popular advice that you should never go to bed angry, it may be helpful to sleep on a response and consider different options. In the light of day, cooler heads may prevail and you may decide on a different course of action. Emailing in haste rarely has positive consequences.
  • Beware of the “autofill” function on your email. When you rush and don’t pay attention, you can embarrass yourself and others. Case in point: The lawyer who thought he was writing to his girlfriend, Allison, and instead wrote a love note to “All Attorneys” at this firm. Slow down and read what you’ve written, particularly the “To” section.
  • Pick up the phone. While the common wisdom states that you ought to respond in kind (email merits an email response, a telephone call merits a telephone call in return and so forth), consider picking up the phone to clarify a situation before sending an incendiary email. While email is convenient, it lacks warmth and nuance. Therefore, it’s easy to misread or misinterpret an email whereas a telephone conversation can convey thoughts in real time and with greater emotion.

An excellent resource for lawyers to consult regarding email etiquette is Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe.   You can also read The Modern Rules of Business Etiquette (ABA Publishing) co-authored by Donna Gerson and David Gerson.