Every day, I send and receive at least a couple hundred emails. Yet we, as a profession, rarely step back and consider how we use email — and how we can use it better. And so, I’ve put together what I call “The Lawyer’s Code of Conduct for Email” — drawing on my working experiences and those of Bindu Cudjoe, the deputy general counsel and chief administrative officer at BMO Financial Group. What follows is the first half of my two-part guide, which offers three tips on how to maintain proper email decorum.
1. Use email for scheduling, not decision-making
There are basically three ways to communicate with someone: in-person, on the phone and via email. When I spoke to Bindu, she said email is best used as a scheduling tool — to set up meetings and longer calls — rather than for detailed discussions or making substantial decisions. You can use email to record those decisions and suggest next steps, but when you want to go in-depth, hop on the phone.
2. Respond to clients promptly, even if you can’t answer their questions
Clients demand timeliness. So when they email me, I respond in a couple of hours, or within 12 hours if they email outside of business hours. If I need more time to consider the request, my response might be as simple as “Will do” or “Will get back to you.” And if I know I’ll be away from my email, I always set up an out-of-office alert that tells the sender when to expect a response. The point is: clients should never be kept out of the loop, wondering when you will get back to them.
3. Stop sending emails at 4 a.m.
Okay, I’m as guilty as anyone of sending emails whenever the impulse strikes. But, when working late, unless the recipient needs the information right away, wait until the next day to hit “send.” In Microsoft Office, use the “delay send” feature so the email arrives at more appropriate time — say, 9 a.m. the next morning. I often schedule emails to arrive when I know the recipient starts his or her workday (that’s 7:30 a.m. for known early-risers). That way, my messages are less likely to sink to the bottom of their inboxes.