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What Clients Love (and Hate) about Email Communication from Lawyers

Clients are increasingly asked to do more with less. They have greater responsibilities, have more work to do and often spend all day going from meeting to meeting or conference call to conference call. Email is often the best way to get messages to clients during hectic days, but their inboxes are on overload. Many clients estimate receiving 250 to as many as 500 emails a day. Who has the time to wade through all of that? And more importantly, who wants to? While we know that “one size fits one” and each client has specific preferences and needs, these are some tips (provided by clients we have interviewed) to improve email communication:

  • “I can get up to 250 emails a day. I need things simplified to key messages and bullet points so I can just read what is important. Attorneys can communicate more efficiently and can listen better.”
  • “Email is fine, but don’t let it accelerate beyond two or three exchanges. It is not a conversation. If something requires a conversation, it’s okay to send an email that says that. You should use the email to cover the essence of what you need to communicate but not to have the conversation.”
  • “Always take the extra time to edit email communications to make it easier on people like me who are trying to sift through hundreds of emails a day.”
  • “Use the subject line wisely. Let me know if something is urgent, if I need to do something (and by when) or if it’s just information and doesn’t require a response.”
  • “If I’m not asking for a response, I don’t need one. I really don’t need that email that says ‘thanks’ or ‘got it.’ That just sends my email count up to 402.”
  • “Strive to improve on being succinct in written communication and particularly with email. It’s easier to write out everything you want to communicate, but for someone like me who is getting 300 to 400 emails a day it’s hard to read a two- or three-page email. There is a style they should try to emulate that is more business oriented and just focus on the business points and refer to an attached, more detailed memo if needed. An email should be as brief as possible.”
  • “If you are working on something time sensitive and your colleague, client or counterpart is expecting to hear from you at night or on the weekend, you should send the email. But if it is ordinary course of business, then delay delivery until business hours.”
  • “Most lawyers think the emails they send to clients are going to be the most important thing the client receives that day, and that’s just not the case.”
  • “I have lawyers who send me a PDF of a letter via email and the email just says, ‘Please see attached.’ What I want them to do if it is important enough to send via email is to provide a brief summary outlining the key points in the letter. Then I know I can look at the letter later or that I can file it away for future reference. It’s just about a right way and a wrong way to use email. Most lawyers abuse it.”

So before you draft your next email, ask yourself these six questions below:

  • Why are you communicating?
  • What does the recipient need to know to get up to speed?
  • What does the recipient need to do?
  • What is your recommendation?
  • Who is the ultimate audience?
  • Are you being as succinct and clear as possible?
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