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Total Recall? Not on Outlook

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

Cher famously lamented her inability to change the past. If she could have turned back time, she would have taken back the words that hurt her lover, and he would have stayed.

Don't we all have those regrets?

We all make mistakes, particularly with email. We send messages without attachments. We click the wrong name as the recipient field auto-populates. (Who doesn't get tripped up by auto-populate in an office where everyone is named Andrew or Stephanie?)

Though technology has advanced since the days of Cher strutting around a battleship in a fishnet body stocking, there are still only a few ways that we can turn back time with email. In Microsoft Outlook — the most widely-used email application in the world, according to Inc. — email time-turners have to rely on the message recall function.

The process for recalling a message in Outlook is pretty straightforward.

  1. Open up your Sent Mail.
  2. Open the message you want to recall.
  3. Confirm that you are in the "Message" tab, and select "Actions" or "Other Actions."
  4. Select "Recall This Message."
  5. Decide whether you want to recall or replace the message.

But it's not easy to recall a message. You're completely out of luck if the recipient is outside your firm, or if she has already opened the message. Microsoft explains:

You can recall messages only when you have a Microsoft Exchange account, and the recipient of your message is also using an Exchange account. If you don't see Recall This Message on the Outlook Actions menu, you can't recall messages. The option to recall a message is not available if you're using a POP3, IMAP, or HTTP email account (for example, MSN Hotmail).

Even when you are successful in recalling a message and deleting unread copies, Outlook will rat you out by alerting the recipient that you have recalled the message.

Since Outlook can rarely absolve you of your email sins, you're better off taking extra steps to avoid embarrassment before clicking send on that message. Try using the ABCs of email: Add Attachments when you start a message, write the Body of the email next, and fill in the Contact last.

Approximately 450 million desktops use Outlook, Inc. reports. If your firm's computers are among the millions, don't count on message recall to save you from yourself.

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