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Email Best Practices for Lawyers & Law Firms (Inc. Top 10 Dos/Don’ts)

With around 100 billion business emails getting sent every day across the world, it’s easy to see how your emails can end up managing you, rather than you being able to manage your emails.

Moore Legal’s Gavin Ward, Dave Kerr and Nicole Donald, recently presented an ‘Email Dos and Don’ts’ seminar for lawyers and law firms of varying sizes and specialities at the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow (RFPG) on Wednesday 17th September. It was a deviation from our standard online business generation seminars (see, for example, here); we thought it would be useful to share the knowledge further in this blog post for you.email-for-lawyers-law-firms

Emails for Lawyers: Dangers and Opportunities

While lawyers have been dealing with emails for their practices since the 80s (whether themselves or through their secretaries), there are still certain dangers that arise with email. You and your colleagues, particularly more junior staff, must get it right from a professional practice perspective. There are also opportunities to become more productive with your use of emails, and even more opportunities to be had by the use of better email newsletters, marketing and enquiry answering. So it pays to be up to speed on best practices.

Email Gaffes – Examples of how it can go Horribly Wrong

Because most lawyers are naturally prudent, email gaffes within the legal profession are rare. Get it wrong, and the tightly-knit profession will know about it within hours and possibly sooner (most likely via Roll on Friday, LegalCheek or Above the Law).

An example from our own experience, one of our team found out about a recent law firm merger before it happened because he was copied into a chain of emails from others within the merging law firm by mistake. If that news had ended up in the wrong hands and got out early, it could have been costly.

A cringe-worthy example of a recent viral story from Aberdeen (this time outwith the legal profession):-

#SandwichVan

A receptionist at an oil industry services company in Aberdeen accidentally forwarded a seemingly inane message to her office (of thousands of people) to alert them to the arrival of the sandwich van outside. However, she accidentally wrote the message on top of the chain of private emails she had been swapping with her other half who also worked at the company. The full exchange was seen by everyone in the office – and included intimate messages between the couple about their activities the previous evening.

Within hours the email had gone viral, spreading first to other oil firms in Aberdeen and then to the rest of the world, prompting a series of jokes on Twitter with the hashtag #sandwichvan. One of the tamer messages included, "I totally fancy you.” We’re sure you can infer the rest!

Unsurprisingly, the couple were mortified by the simple email that went wrong and both resigned from their jobs at the company. This is an extreme example of how email errors can prove disastrous, but matters like this happen more regularly than you may imagine. Firms, for instance, emailing private and confidential documents to the wrong client at the slip of a button could be particularly costly in the legal sector.

It’s important to have the best practices in place to ensure you don’t slip up, but also to ensure you get the most from your email communication.

Email Top 10 Dos and Don’ts for Lawyers, Law Firms & Professionals

  1. Make sure it’s the right person you are sending your email to – this may be obvious to most, but it pays to double check. For instance, make sure you haven’t clicked to send it to another John Smith who doesn’t have a clue about what the email is about – or worse, who may forward that email into the wrong hands.
  2. Use a concise and specific subject line that gets straight to the point. It will help the reader to understand what the email is about and can make it easier for this person to refer back to this email by glancing at the subject. You can always change the subject line in your replies if the first subject line is irrelevant. We use keywords in email headings for our own personal reference to find emails faster.
  3. Keep your email short and sweet. No one wants to read an email that goes on forever (unless it has to) – keep it simple and to the point. Include a personal note, ideally at the start, also.
  4. It’s hard to get the right tone through an email so try to be polite as possible, particularly to clients. In heated disputes – for example, for the litigators out there – this becomes trickier. At least ensure a certain level of professionalism.
  5. Use a strong closing line to finish off the email that gives the reader a clear summary of the email and what to do next (call to action) – this can be the difference between getting your task done and you having to chase repeatedly in the future.
  6. Avoid using all capital letters for any words or sentences – it can look like you’re shouting and come across with the wrong tone. Having said that, there may be those certain limited occasions where that’s exactly your intention. Indeed, with email marketing you may want to capitalise certain words (see e.g. Unbounce here, but note spam filter issues if you use too many).
  7. Try to avoid sending anything that is particularly sensitive or confidential through an email. If possible, hand deliver or post private documents to help prevent anything going wrong (such as hacking or forwarding by mistake).
  8. Texting while inebriated is one thing; business emailing while drinking can be a whole different ball game. Don’t risk a potential new client, your job or even career by emailing whilst intoxicated. This goes without saying for most of the legal profession.
  9. Try to use the 24-hour rule for particularly important emails or emails that you may have drafted quickly with too much emotion. Time, if available, can allow you to revisit an important message with a fresh eye.
  10. Always double check spelling, grammar and any typos before sending. Spell check doesn’t always help and it’s worth the extra few minutes to read over what you are about to send.

Email Scams

An email scam is an unsolicited email that claims the prospect of a bargain or something for nothing. Some scam messages ask for business, others invite victims to a website with a detailed pitch, and some ask for money to be sent to Nigeria.

Some common examples include:

Phishing – which is typically carried out by email or instant messaging, and it often directs users to enter personal details at a fake website whose look and feel are almost identical to the legitimate one.

Investment schemes are another big one – emails touting investments that promise high rates of return with little or no risk. One version seeks investors to help form an offshore bank.

If in doubt (and indeed we have seen lawyers almost getting trapped with some of the more modern email scams – see this on WSJ), you should Google certain words/phrases or the email address the email is originating from. Use inverted commas around phrases when searching – you may find that many people have written articles warning you about exactly that type of email.

 

Data Protection Compliance, Emails and Devices in Your Law Firm

How can you ensure compliance with data protection? The best start is to create a secure password, usually containing a number, a character and one capital to avoid any robots hacking your account. Keep your password safe and inaccessible.

Password-lock any devices connected to your emails – for example your phone – and ensure employees do likewise, especially if bringing devices to work. Change your password on your device(s) regularly. If implementing a firm-wide policy for computer passwords, consider a change period of every month.

Don’t send any of your personal information to anyone you are not 100% certain is trustworthy. It is always better to stay safe than sorry – if you’re not sure, don’t do it.

Be wary of any attachments and links some email scams can send. Make sure the sender is someone you know or can trust and if they’re unknown then don’t open the email or click on any links.

Anti-virus software can be worth the small cost and can detect a lot of spyware on your computer.

These points are most relevant to the smaller law firms and sole practitioners, as well as start-up law firms. Our best advice would always be to hire an expert – someone who knows what they’re doing. It’s too important to get it wrong.

Productivity with Emails – Don’t be a Slave to Your Inbox

Productivity with emails is one of those areas where law firms can make the biggest efficiency improvements.

One of the best ways to categorise your approach is to remember the Four Ds:

The Four Ds: Delete, Defer, Delegate or Deal with it!

  • Delete – Eliminate unnecessary emails as soon as possible, particularly by unsubscribing from or blocking useless spam emails.
  • Defer – Schedule in your diary for a later time to deal with it
  • Delegate – Pass the email to the appropriate member in your team
  • Deal with it If the email is one you need to save for a file, move it into that file folder within your case management system and get it out of the inbox. If it’s a task that needs to be done by you, schedule for completion.

Don’t Keep Checking Emails

Highly productive people only check their emails once or twice a day. Don’t continually check emails unless you regularly get urgent emails from clients. Check at certain times of the day (perhaps every 2 hours) unless you are dealing with matters of particular urgency (for example, conveyancing transactions about to settle).

Inbox Zero

Dealing with your emails as above, including filing regularly within your case management system, can be particularly helpful if you have large files needing moved. Annual email clean-ups can also be helpful, but it’s best not to aim for inbox-zero – that’s what the search function is for.

Training and Helpful Tools

Remember that not every new member that joins your team will be up to speed on email best practices from a productivity perspective – train your staff on email productivity and other best practices as soon as you can.

Getting into some of the more geeky email tools out there:-

  1. Filtering: You have the potential to filter your emails. Through Outlook, for instance, you could set filters that place emails from certain senders into certain folders or automatically forward to certain people.
  2. One of the easier ones – after hours, you have the option of turning off emails.
  3. Helpful tools we like to use are Boomerang and – these are email tools that allow you to send certain emails back to yourself at a later time so that your inbox isn’t clogged up with tasks that can be done at a later time.
  4. For the more social media savvy readers, we also recommend considering Xobni, or for Gmail, Rapportive – this allows you to see social media profiles associated with an email address at a glance and can speed up your social networking alongside email communication.

Professional Email Set Up/Format

email-security-data-protection-law-firmsTry to avoid the likes of Hotmail or BTConnect emails. They may be fine for your personal emails, but they don’t look very professional and don’t have a lot of tools that can be helpful when it comes to sorting out your work emails. Get your email address set up in association with your domain name and choose a solid provider such as Office 365.

In any case, it can be prove particularly helpful to hire a technical expert that can deal with all the technical issues associated with setting up emails in a professional manner whilst you get on with your own work.

Once your emails are set up, make sure to add in an on-brand email signature. This will not only look professional, but can help the person you’re emailing know you are who you say you are, or jog their memory of you! It’s also beneficial to add in your company’s website and social media icons to your signature too, so clients can find out more about the company you work for. Always look for opportunities to get calls to action into all of your communication.

In email signatures, a couple of weeks before going on a significant holiday, considering putting the dates of the upcoming holiday in your emails to help you disconnect more on holiday, knowing that more of your clients and contacts appreciate where you are.

Email Newsletters for Law Firms – Right Design, Right Message 

email-marketing-newsletter-design-mailchimp-law-firmsGetting the right design and message for your newsletter is vital. Readers should be able to see a grabbing subject line and headline to entice them in, together with professional design that tells them at a glance that they need to be reading on. Have too much text at first glance and people will dismiss the newsletter within seconds.

It’s important to keep the newsletters consistent so people can know when to expect them. Choose a schedule and stick to it.

Powerful headings will encourage your readers to click into your content. Make sure they’re short, snappy and enticing – see this MailChimp post on best practices for subject lines.

A strong opening line is also vital to keep your readers’ attention. If the opening doesn’t look like it’s going to be something they’re interested in they won’t bother to read the rest.

As well as having well-written, quality content, you must ensure the content is relevant and in line with your specialism,sector and the people reading it.

Further, don’t write too much – try to get people to click through to your website, where you can cross-sell further services, increase website traffic and more.

A clear, easy-to-follow design is imperative. People won’t want to read your newsletter if it requires too much effort. You also have to keep in mind users that may not be as digitally savvy – sometimes keeping it basic and simple could be the right choice.

Viewing a newsletter with only text can be too much to take in at the one time. Making good use of relevant images can make it more appealing to the eye and encourage reader’s attention. The right image could even be the decider between whether or not readers close your newsletter immediately or stay to read on.

But don’t rely solely on images, you need quality content too!

Our last message on this point is to hire a professional who knows what they’re doing. Unless you have brilliant design skills and, indeed, the time to do it, we’d recommend you get your design done right first time. We have particular specialism in designing newsletters based on web designs and branding, and implementing such designs into your chosen newsletter format.

Email Enquiries – Increasing Your Conversions

When dealing with email enquiries, it is important to make the client feel valued and for their enquiry to be taken seriously.

You should respond promptly, but also with a well thought out response that acknowledges their reason for emailing and puts forward a solution or call to action for their enquiry.

Be personal by using their name to show you care about who they are; and use your name so the client doesn’t feel like they’re being spoken to by a robot. Personalisation will help to make the person feel more appreciated as a potential client of your firm.

Avoid auto-responses – most clients’ enquiries will be different and an auto-response may not answer their individual problem. Again, this re-iterates the importance of personalisation and making the client feel like a respected individual.

It’s good to end your email with an offer to follow-up with a phone call or a meeting in person if it suits the enquiry in question. There is only so much you can do through email, so take it to the next step.

If you take anything away from this (and there are many law firms out there, particularly the smaller law firms, that don’t have this perfected), set up an email enquiry process. Decide who will be in charge of processing the emails, replying, and an ideal timescale for each enquiry. Having a set process in place will save time and effort and will make your potential clients feel a lot more appreciated. The same applies for your telephone enquiry processes – see our blog here on increasing your telephone conversion rates.

Still Confused?

Don’t worry if you don’t have all of the above perfected. It can easily all get too much and you may feel like you’re too busy to sort out all this on your own, particularly if you are setting up a new practice. If you would like a professional email newsletter designed and ready-made for you to easily edit, or anything internet marketing related such as online enquiry conversion rate improvement, Moore Legal Technology can help. Please get in touch – we are always happy to have a chat on 0845 620 5664 (ask for Chris), or alternatively you can fill out our online enquiry form here and we will call you back.

UPDATE:

One of our customers, Alan Stewart, a leading corporate lawyer and founder of Kergan Stewart, offered us some very insightful feedback regarding our email dos and don’ts blog. Alan made a great point by adding an important ‘email don’t’ – avoid ‘cc’ing’ the wrong people – that includes when clicking ‘reply all’. Alan said:-

‘There is a lack of thought given to who should be included in emails between solicitors, especially clients. There is a common practice when sending out an email to include the clients of the sender as cc’s; that then raises the issue of whether the solicitor replying is to include the other solicitor’s clients. Having been brought up in the “old world”, it was most unprofessional to contact the client of the other solicitor but email is driving a wedge through that.

Sometimes it can be useful, especially in the latter frenetic stages of a deal. But generally, one solicitor may want to say something to the other which is not appropriate for the other client to see. There can also be great danger in this when threads become lengthy and people do not check what is being sent to whom.’

This was a very helpful professional practice point made by Alan and we welcome feedback from solicitors/professionals from all areas of work. What are your email dos and don’ts?”

Image credit: rpgcodex

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