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Technology: 5 email policies for communicating with outside counsel

Use these guidelines to streamline communication and assist with billing.

Many companies have billing policies for outside counsel. Consider asking your outside counsel to follow some guidelines for email messages.

Email is how we communicate with our clients and poor email practices put additional burdens on everyone—inside and outside counsel alike. Proper email policies can ease the burden and benefit everyone.

Here are some suggestions for email policies you may want to consider.

1. The subject line

The subject line should be the focus of the email policy, because this is where you can gain the greatest benefit. Start with the matter name, followed by a colon or dash, and then a few words that cut to the chase. If any action is required, the subject should identify it.

For example:

MATTER: draft motion to dismiss – DUE THURSDAY

One more nuanced addition: the “MATTER” should be an agreed-upon, unique word. “SMITH” is not good. But “SMITH123” is, with“123” being the matter number. With a unique matter identifier in the subject of every matter-related email, the email program can be set using rules to automatically archive it in the matter folder allowing you to simply delete it rather than making extra effort to move it to a particular folder or sub-folder.

Of course, pick a small number to put at the end, perhaps a few unique digits. “SMITH-D00000412-1230002” will be mistyped frequently.

2. The length

Too many emails are too long. Consider a one-short-paragraph rule, with an exception for where the lawyer believes it is not possible to get the necessary information into the email in that space. Many emails will be longer, but getting the outside lawyer to think this way will produce many more short, to-the-point messages.

3. Email, don’t attach

My kids’ school sends newsletters updating us on developments of the week, but they are sent as PDFs. I wish the information in the PDF would just come as text. That way, I could read it on my iPhone.

Drafts of briefs should be attachments. Letters providing status updates are unnecessary. The text should be in the email, rather than a letter attached to the email that requires someone to waste time opening the attachment.

4. Include all needed materials for review

By contrast, where attachments would help, attach them. If I send you a draft of a response to a motion, I can help you by attaching the motion. That way you will not need to hunt for it.

5. Don’t use “URGENT” or “IMPORTANT”

These words are vague. Rather, ask your outside counsel to use more specific words, such as “DUE TODAY” or “APPROVE BY TOMORROW.”

Outside counsel may complain about these policies, but they are not burdensome and, I suspect, will be adopted fairly quickly by your outside counsel’s law firm for their own internal emails.


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Todd Flaming

Todd Flaming is a founding partner of KrausFlaming LLC in Chicago.

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