Being a good lawyer requires many skills. You must obviously have knowledge about, and experience in, the area in which you practice. You must be smart and diligent. You must have patience and be resourceful. You must be a good communicator. The one skill set that is often overlooked is efficiency. Too often in the law, I see people and practices that are simply inefficient. In the law, inefficient is ineffective. This rule applies as early as the first days of law school, where the greatest challenge can be learning what not to do. When practicing law, the same rule holds true. Efficient is effective, and effective serves clients.
Efficiency starts from the ground up. At our firm, we promote efficiency in as many steps of our process as possible. Email is one place I see tremendous inefficiencies all the time. Here are just a few efficiency tips for email:
GUIDELINES FOR EMAIL EFFICIENCY
1. ALWAYS reply to all – Unless it’s a mass email (in which case see 7 and 9 below) or you are intentionally trying to exclude someone, always reply to all. The sender copied those people for a reason.
2. When scheduling something by email, propose at least one date/time that works for you and preferably a back-up as well.
3. When responding to a proposed date/time that does NOT work for you, propose at least two dates/times in response. It is unacceptable to respond by saying, “I am not available then.” If you are not available at that time, tell us when you are available.
4. When a group schedule is proposed, make sure you respond to the last response. If the first person proposes 5 different days, and the next person says three of those dates work for her, then you should reply with which of her dates work for you.
5. When you are not available for a proposed meeting/call, there is no reason for you to tell us why. We don’t care and you are just wasting your time and ours.
6. Never send an email that says “You’re welcome.” At most, “Thank you” or “Got it” or “Confirmed” should be the end of an email trail. But even those, while courteous, are unnecessary unless you need to let the sender know you are handling it.
7. Never send a “Thank you” in a Reply to All. If you feel the need to thank the sender, that is fine. But don’t copy the rest of the recipients.
8. When sending an email to multiple people, clearly identify what requests you are directing to each of them.
9. Use bcc for mass emails. I would think everyone knows this rule by now but I still see violations.
10. Don’t use bcc for anything other than mass emails. If you want someone else to know you sent an email, just forward it to them. Otherwise, you run the risk that the person who was blind copied does not notice. When they reply to all, your original recipient will know that you bcc’d someone else.
11. If you are making multiple requests, number them. Don’t bury them in the body of a paragraph.
12. When responding to a numbered list, cut and paste the list into your response and respond to each item one by one. Save the sender from having to scroll back and forth to review your response and the questions.
13. Do not start your message in the subject line. It will be lost in the replies and will not make sense. If your message is important, put it in the body of the email. If It is not important, then why are sending the email?
14. Change the subject line. Often an email string will start off on one topic and turn to another over days or weeks. For example, the subject line might be “meeting tomorrow.” Then, when you reply days later, the subject line suggests there is another meeting the next day. As the string progresses, just change the subject line and avoid the confusion.
15. Don’t ever send an email saying “Call me.” You may only do this if you already called and you really need to speak to that person; in that case, you should say, “I just left you a voicemail in your office. I really need to speak. Please call me.”
16. Don’t forget two important alternatives to email – your feet and your phone. If you can walk down the hall or pick up the phone, then you should. Communicating in person or by phone is usually more effective and efficient. Sometimes, the best email is the one you don’t send.