8 Tips to Get Your Email Read…and Answered.

If there’s one thing we do a lot of as lawyers, it’s write, and read, a lot of email. Making sure an email is read is as important as the information in it. An unread email might as well not be sent (except for liability reasons, but that’s another blog post…).

1. Fill in the “TO:” line last. It protects you against accidentally sending out that email before you’ve had a chance to proof  and finish it. When you do fill it out, make sure it is going to the right person(s).

2.  Draft your email first, then the subject line. If your email’s intended recipient is a busy person, and they aren’t expecting it, there’s a good chance that they will procrastinate reading it unless you give them a good reason to read it. That reason will be in the subject line.

3. Write a well crafted subject line. Studies have shown (anecdotally?) that resume readers, on average, spend less than 10 seconds on a résumé. Scanning a full email box will be even faster. If you’ve got to catch the reader’s attention, the subject line is the place.

4. Speaking of subject lines, make them “uber-concrete and descriptive,” says Jason Freedman. Say exactly what you need from the email.

5. Use your company email, not the Gmail address. We all have one, but the company email looks more professional.

6. Give context and keep it short. If you’re responding to a partner’s request for information or case-law, remind him (or her) of their original question, and then quickly give the short answer. Attach the full memo for their reading pleasure at their convenience.  It’s both considerate of their time, and it gets them what they want–the answer, with access to more information if they want it (and when they have time).

7. Respond to emails quickly, and include your contact information. As Freedman ably points out, just because they may not quickly respond to you does not mean you have the luxury of delaying response. Be courteous and quick. And last, include a professional signature block that includes how they can reach you, but phone or cell, and a fax number if necessary.

If it’s a client who is looking for information on their case, they’ll appreciate not having to follow-up with a call or badgering you for an answer. To you, they may be just one client of many, but to them you are their only lawyer and this may be their only case. A quick response will let them know you care, that you’re on it, and that you’re doing what you can to keep their case on top of things.

8. Last, proof read. Nothing says more about your professionalism that the presence (or absence) of typos. We all make them, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to reduce them. Further, proof reading helps to moderate tone when issues are contentious, divisive, or unclear. Proof read everything before hitting the send button.

APROPOS: Don’t forget to put the legalese into your email.

(h/t Jason Freedman for his excellent suggestions and for getting me thinking more about how I write my emails)

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