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Small Firm Email Etiquette: 5 Rules to Follow

By Betty Wang, JD | Last updated on

Ah, email etiquette. As the professional bunch that we are, you wouldn't think that attorneys would need to know what etiquette to abide by when it comes to something as obvious as crafting an email, right?

Wrong. Because much like the limp handshake, the longer-than-one-page resume, or chewing with your mouth open, some small details can still make or break your image -- and email etiquette is definitely one of them

Here are 5 tips to keep in mind, when it comes to email etiquette at your firm:

1. Keep it short and sweet. As lawyers, our time is already at a premium. You don't want to waste your own time, and the recipient's time, either, by crafting a longer-than-necessary email. Remember to be concise and stick to the point of your email. If the content of your email is longer than a couple of paragraphs, make sure that it is absolutely necessary and that the recipient is aware of that. Otherwise, this just makes you look unprofessional and loooong-winded.

2. Spelling and grammar. While email can be casual, depending on who the recipient is, sending one out in your professional capacity usually shouldn't be. While shortening a "you" to a "u" every now and then may make sense in a text or on gchat, it may be a different story when you are emailing another associate or your client.

3. Don't forward chain letters. Seriously, does this one need an explanation? This is unprofessional, not remotely amusing, a waste of time.

4. Take a second look. Don't zip off an email too quickly, only to realize that you left out some crucial points or sent out a typo-ridden email. This is not only unprofessional, but a follow-up may clutter up the recipient's inbox and annoy them, as well.

5. Include a subject line. Emails with no subject lines read as incomplete. Or, to make matters worse, they might be disregarded and unread if the recipient is in a hurry. You want to make sure that your email catches the attention of your recipient immediately. Especially with lawyers, it's likely that our email inboxes are already inundated with pages and pages of emails (some useless, but some important).

Remember, though, these rules are not set in stone, at the end of the day, there's really only one rule you can rely on -- use your best judgment.

Editor's note, November 1st, 2016: This article was first published in October, 2013. It has since been updated.

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