Courtly Manners
California Lawyer

Courtly Manners

by Crystal Rockwood

June 2013

Are Your Emails Rude?

At a legal industry retreat where 25 attorneys from various firms and companies are discussing business outreach strategy, opinions about email etiquette fly around the room - many delivered like an unwelcome gift from a seagull.

"No one cares if you sign your name or not to an email," one attorney says with a dismissive wave of her hand. "That's what my signature block is for," another litigator says tiredly. "The person already knows who I am," snorts a third. Then, in a quiet voice, the general counsel for a $2 billion company taps his pen and says, "It matters to me."

That should be a wake-up call. Exactly how good is your "e-image"? Are your messages abrupt or lazy? Do they convey indifference to others? They may if you routinely omit the words please and thank you. In the absence of "please," your email is a demand, and sans, "thank you," it suggests you take someone for granted. In both cases, it implies that the person is not important or deserving of your attention. "It bothers me when people leave please and thank you off, as if our business is expected," chimes in a GC from one of the largest banks in the nation.

The key here is to take seriously the cumulative impact of these seemingly harmless acts. Here are a few tips for fostering a good e-image:

- Type your name, even if it is in the signature block.

- Avoid preset closing lines like "With warmest regards" or "Sincerely" when in fact the relationship is not at that level or the material discussed does not warrant such a tone. Repeatedly sending canned responses comes across as lazy. If you care enough about the relationship, make the sign-off equitable to the exchange.

- Include your signature block on all emails. (Try quickly reaching someone who is not in your contacts and whose signature block is buried several emails back.)

A recent happenstance encounter with one of the attorneys from the retreat reveals a lesson learned: "I had no idea those things would matter to a guy, let alone a GC," the lawyer told me. "I was sending messages opposite of how I intended to come across."

Anyone can argue that the volume of email and limited time we all are subject to explains why we cannot engage differently, but the greater argument is, how can we afford otherwise?


Crystal Rockwood, president of Rockwood Communications Counsel in Seal Beach (rockwoodcc.com), provides litigation PR, publicity, and business development services for law firms and businesses. She is a graduate of the Emily Post Business Etiquette program.

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