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BCC: Don't Get Blindsided by the Blind Copy

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

Email gaffes are practically a rite of passage. Everyone seems to have an embarrassing reply all story, or a tale of a forgotten attachment for a major client.

While not as commonly lamented as "reply all" and attachment debacles, the blind carbon copy (BCC) lays claim to its own type of office drama. That's why some websites — like SlawTips — suggest that lawyers should never use the BCC.

But is it really so terrible?

First, let's review how the BCC works. In case you're new to this -- or you've never Googled it -- the BCC sends a secret copy of an email to a recipient. The BCC recipient can see the recipients in the "To" and "CC" (carbon copy) fields, but those recipients cannot see who received a blind copy.

There are probably some diplomatic ways to describe the purpose of the BCC, but we're not going to strive for diplomacy here: The BCC helps you rat out your co-workers while simultaneously covering your butt.

For example, let's say you need a document from another attorney -- we'll call him Tom -- before you could move forward on a project. Tom drops the ball, and now you're going to look bad when the project is late. Enter, BCC. Just send Tardy Tom an email reminding him that you're waiting on him to deliver that document so you can begin working. And BCC the partner on the matter. Suddenly, the partner knows that Tom is reason for all the world's woes, and Tom has no idea that you tattled. You're on track to becoming partner or senior associate or employee of the month. Tom might get demoted to a cubicle. Life is good.

Unless the partner replies to the email.

And that's SlawTips' point. If the BCC recipient hits reply all, then everyone on your original email will know what you did. And they'll think you're a jerk.

Even Microsoft warns of the dangers of the BCC. And -- let's face it -- Outlook is pretty much designed to humiliate you in every way possible; if Microsoft is warning about BCC blunders, it must be bad.

The lesson is that you should use the BCC sparingly. If you're sending a newsletter to your entire client list or a departure memo to your firm, add only your own email address in the "To" field, and include all other addresses in the BCC. If you're trying to make your co-worker look bad, just forward your original email from the "sent box" to your bigwig of choice with an "FYI" note.

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