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Writing emails

How does the nature of the relationship with your client impact your writing style? This article discusses protocols for sending emails.

In legal practice, email is considered formal communication. Depending on the nature of your relationship with the recipient, you may use a less formal style that suits the more immediate nature of an email exchange. Start the first email to a person you do not know with “Dear …”. When you receive a response, the more familiar “Hi …” may be used to respond. Your email should be drafted with the same precision and clarity of expression as a formal letter, and with the same considerations for effective written communication. Be aware that an email can be permanently retained by the recipient and can be quickly and easily forwarded by the recipient to multiple recipients without the sender’s knowledge or consent.

Consider these basic protocols for sending emails:
• Do not put anything in an email that you would not put in a letter on the law practice’s letterhead.
• Leave the “To” line blank until the draft has been completed and approved for sending. This avoids accidental sending.
• Make any claim for confidentiality and/or privilege in the subject line of the email so it is unequivocal, marking it, for example, “Confidential & Privileged Legal Communication” or “Without Prejudice”.
• The subject line should reflect the purpose or content of your email to ensure the email will be read.
• Make a clear statement at the beginning of the email that the email and any attachments should not be forwarded, copied (cc) or blind copied (bcc) or hard copies given to any other party without the prior written consent of the author.
• Do not copy unnecessary recipients. Choice of recipients depends on, for example, whether the subject matter is relevant to the recipient, they have an interest in the information, discussion or advice (and are entitled to it), they are involved in the matter, or they have authority or are able to provide input. • Use “cc” if you are providing the recipient with information but do not require a response or action.
• Pay attention to the security level of the correspondence – when providing legal advice by email, it is best practice to lock the written advice (for example, as a locked PDF) and attach it to the email to protect the integrity of the document. If a higher level of security is required, consider attaching a password-protected attachment and/or encrypting the attachment where only the recipient has the key.
• When forwarding an email, review the message trail to see if any part or any attachments should be deleted before sending. This is important to protect the confidentiality of information and reducing the risk of disseminating information to the wrong party or more broadly than initially intended.
• Always check the recipient’s email address and the attachments before sending.

© College of Law
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