Trial & Error: How to write the perfect email

In my last column, I tackled a subject lawyers are all too familiar with: email, and when to use it instead of in-person meetings or talking on the phone. Sometimes, I concluded, email is the best choice. And for those times, here are six tips for drafting the “perfect” email. (Shout out to Bindu Cudjoe, the deputy general counsel and chief administrative officer at BMO Financial Group, who helped develop this list.)

1. Be careful about who is in the “to” and “copy” address lines

Most people receive hundreds of emails every day. So try not to unnecessarily load up someone’s inbox. Also, to ensure everyone receives the email, make sure there is no “auto-fill” error.

2. Cater your salutations to the recipient of each email

I use email for all kinds of matters, so I use salutations to convey the level of formality in the communication. I start my informal emails with “Hi” and I sign off with my name or, simply, “Cheers.” For formal emails, to clients and co-workers, I address recipients by their name only. I address them by their first name if I’ve met them before, and “Mr./Ms.” followed by their last name for everyone else. I sign off formal emails with “Regards” or “Best.”

3. Always include your contact information in your e-mail

Quite often, when you send an email, the recipient will want to phone you. Make your phone number east to find. Not doing so is one of Bindu’s pet peeves — and it likely is for several of your clients and co-workers, too.

4. Have a clear, detailed subject line

I typically send and receive a couple hundred emails a day, so clear subject lines help me locate the emails I want when dashing between meetings. In each subject line, I include the name of the matter or file, followed by the specific item or task under discussion. If appropriate, I add what our next step should be. For example, in a transactional context, a good subject would look like: “Acme Inc. Deal – Prospectus – MT Comments.” In litigation, a good subject line would be: “Jane ats Joe – Discoveries – Please Hold Jan 1, 2015.”

5. Put new thoughts in a new e-mail

All good e-mail threads must come to an end and new thoughts require a new thread. This is important for many reasons: it makes it easier to forward emails without the baggage of old threads, and for the litigators in the audience, creating a clean motion record.

6. Make your email easy to read

Consider that most people read emails on mobile devices. Bold, highlight, and underline key passages or phrases to draw the reader to your most salient points.

Do you have any other suggestions for e-mail? If so, please share with me on Twitter at @atrishalewis.

Atrisha Lewis is a third-year associate in McCarthy Tétrault’s litigation group. Follow her on Twitter: @atrishalewisAnd also check out all of her past columns.

Making It Work: How Bindu Cudjoe does it

Bindu Cudjoe

BMO Deputy General Counsel and Chief Administrative Officer
Year of call: 2001

On a drab Toronto day in a meeting room at Bank of Montreal’s Bay Street head office, Bindu Cudjoe zips in, grabs a seat and infuses the space with a disarming blend of warmth and high energy. Even her well-cut sheath dress is a zingy shade of blood orange. Named deputy general counsel and chief administrative officer for BMO in November 2014, she is hitting the gas at work. “This is a new role, and when you’re leading people, it’s important to be there with them. I have a ton of people who count on me and I have a lot of meetings,” she says. “When you’re in-house, you have to demonstrate value by being connected.” And for Cudjoe, all of that face-time comes naturally. She’s a true “people” person.

The 40-year-old takes the GO train from Oakville every day, where she has a house full of kids, ages 10, eight and six. Her husband’s practice as a criminal defence lawyer is as time-intensive as hers — up to 60 hours a week. She’s also a director at the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers and the chair of the local public school council where her children attend. So how does she do it all? She doesn’t try to do it all. “Everything has a season,” she says. Right now, it’s time to kill it at work, nurture relationships and family, and pepper the pot with leisure travel. “I’m not as fit as I could be, and that’s alright,” she says. She doesn’t beat herself up for not pumping iron or running marathons.

In our digital, virtual world, Cudjoe prioritizes spending time with people. If she gets invited to coffee by junior colleagues, or even people she’s only interviewed, she always goes. Lunch dates are spent with friends. Meetings take up much of her workday, so she catches up on reading and paperwork during her commute. She and her husband take an annual couples vacation, often to Cuba. “It’s important to have a strong marriage, and it’s important to give yourselves quiet time together,” she says. At home, her kids have been clamouring for a swimming pool. But they’re not getting one. “Instead we’ve gone to Ghana — where my husband has family — India, the cottage, San Francisco.” Indeed, for Cudjoe, it’s always the season to seek out that elusive thing — quality time.

Bindu CudjoeThe lowdown

Start time: 8:30 a.m.
End time: 6 or 7 p.m.
Weekly hours: About 60
Former jobs: Partner at McMillan LLP and adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall
Sanity-saving domestic weapon: Her mom and dad relocated from her hometown of Calgary after her eldest was born, and they get a salary to look after the kids. “It’s a serious role, and I want them to be compensated. Plus, my mom ran a home daycare”
Prioritizes: Sleep. “I get about seven hours. Less than that, I feel it”
Lunch: Food court in the PATH, with pals. “It gets progressively less healthy as the week goes on. But it’s apples and granola if I can’t get out of the office”

This story is part of The Precedent guide to getting it all done, from our Spring 2015 issue.



Photography by Daniel Ehrenworth

Making It Work: The Precedent guide to getting it all done

Precedent Spring Issue 2015 CoverLet’s face it: in order to a lawyer (and a damn good one at that), it means that you are making a commitment to a profession that demands a lot of time and energy. But that doesn’t mean you want to sacrifice the rest of your life.

So how does it all get done?

You’ve got to be resourceful. You’ve got to let some things go. And you’ve got to work hard to achieve balance.

Find out how some of Toronto’s most productive lawyers are killing it at the office and making time for their hobbies, vacations, families, fitness and even sleep. Don’t believe us? Check out the stories below:


Angela Chaisson

How Angela Chaisson finds time to go for lunch with her firm every day

Cornell Wright

How Cornell Wright finds a way to make it to soccer practice

Bindu Cudjoe

How Bindu Cudjoe makes time for friends, family and annual vacations








Unfiltered advice from lawyers with kids

Shelby Austin

Learn from Shelby Austin’s day planner

healthy lawyer

How to keep your job from killing you







Photography by Daniel Ehrenworth

Illustration by Naila Medjidova