Caveat Emailor

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Let the emailer beware….

People often bemoan that the pace of the modern world is both a boon and a bane. My first brush with the increasingly frenetic pace was in the 1980’s with the advent of fax machines. Where once it took days for documents to be exchanged, by mail, it now took minutes. Things that we were expected to review in due course now began to require immediate attention. Little did we know then how the pace of communications would only increase as technology advanced. And, little did we know of the issues and challenges that thinking quickly and communicating quickly could create for us.

Bill Gates once wrote about “business at the speed of thought.” But when it comes to legal matters, speed of thought is not always a plus. There are many (myself included) who believe that emails are not the best place for a substantive discussion of legal issues.  There are issues of security and confidentiality. The brief and quick-response nature of email is at odds with the detailed and deliberate analysis generally needed to analyze and absorb the issues.   While email adds to the speed of communications, it is in the delivery of the message rather than its composition.  While email is faster, it’s not always easier. And it is certainly not always better.

Email threads are easy to lose track of, and people can be wont to say things in email that they might not say in person. It is not the way to try to achieve consensus within a a group (say, an association board) Without eye contact, body language and intonation, conveying exactly what you mean to say is a much more difficult proposition. We have all experienced situations where things we meant to say did not come out quite right on paper. That risk is heightened in email, especially because we tend to dash them off quickly, without enough time to review what we said or how we said it.

There are also issues of security and confidentiality that must be considered. Once sent, an email is out there in the cyber universe for all to see, all to reach, all to change and all to misinterpret.  Use of email can jeopardize the attorney client privilege, opening all sorts of cans of worms for emailers involved in litigation. Suddenly, your personal computer may be subject to search and analysis for e-discovery.

Email has its place, and its uses. Just be cautious not to use it where you shouldn’t.

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