You are likely going to find yourself writing a wide variety of emails as a paralegal. You have to make contact with other law firms, with your clients, with organizations, etc., in order to provide the very best services to your clients. Email is a great tool, but only if it is used properly. Too many people today use it as another form of instant messaging or texting.
Here are some paralegal email etiquette tips to consider before hitting that “send” button.
1. Always provide a brief introduction
Especially if the individual that you are emailing has not worked with you before or only knows the law firm you work for, it is worth your time to write a short introduction at the beginning of the email. This is true when you contact clients, again, especially if they have only communicated with one of the lawyers. They may be aware of you who are, but a line reminding them of your name and your relationship to the law firm will always be appreciated or, at the very least, not annoying to the recipient.
2. Strive for a polite tone
Even if you are emailing about something urgent or are angry about the topic you need to send an email about, try to maintain a polite, calm tone. The last thing you want to do is come across as aggressive, threatening, or disparaging. Email seems like an informal method of communication, but as a paralegal, you likely already know that the emails you send are professional communication. They should be treated as such. Don’t fall into the trap of letting your emotions write the email for you. If you are angry or upset about the subject of the email, type it out, save it as a draft, and come back to it when your mind is clear.
3. Respond promptly
This is extremely important—in your role as a paralegal, it may often be your job to handle a lawyer’s correspondence. This means that you want to respond to emails as soon as possible, generally within twenty-four to forty-eight hours, depending on the urgency of the email itself. You do not have to respond instantly, but you also do not want any emails to fall through the cracks.
4. Treat email as public communication
Email can be hacked. Unless it is the policy of your firm to do so, treat email as you would any other form of public communication. Do not discuss very private matters, even with the clients they concern, over email, unless directed to do so by your firm. Each firm will likely have its own policy when it comes to discussing confidential information via email, so learn what that policy is at your firm and make sure that you follow it carefully.
5. Avoid using slang
It can be tempting, especially if most of your personal email communication is with friends and family, to let slang and emoticons seep into your professional emails. Even if the other party is using slang, do not use it yourself. As a legal professional, you already know the benefit of using precise language. It can look very unprofessional to write something like “4 u” instead of “for you” in an email that is supposed to be business-related. If you would not use it in a legal document, do not use it in an email, as, in some instances, your emails may become legal documents.
6. Keep it as short as possible
No one likes to read a lengthy email, especially because the vast majority of emails are now read on phones, rather than on computer screens. Unless the topic necessitates a very long email, keep your correspondence as short and to the point as possible. This might mean cleaning up long email chains, as well as whittling down what you need to say in the email to the most basic points. You do not want your recipient to miss an important point because it was buried in long paragraphs. In our Paralegal Communication Skills workshop, we quote Mark Twain: I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.
7. Proofread before sending
Email may not seem as formal as sending a physical letter, but it is, in many ways. This means that you should not just type out the email and send it out without reading it over. This gives you the opportunity to catch any grammar mistakes or typos, as well as to clean up the email, make sure it is formatted in a way that is easy to read, and only contains the most applicable points. Proofread your email thoroughly, at least once, before hitting send. And proofread your subject, line, too. It is the first thing that is going to be read, so it should be as spotless as the rest of your email. For more help on improving your attention to detail, join us for our 60-minute Master Your Attention to Detail course.
8. Explain any attachments
You may occasionally send an attachment along with your email. Do not send the attachment without any explanation for what it is or why you have sent it. This will make both the email and the attachment look like spam. Make sure to note how large the attachment is—if it is very large, explain the size of the attachment so they know it is supposed to be that large, and not that it is secretly a virus.
About the Author
Ann Pearson is the Founder of the Paralegal Boot Camp, specializing in training for paralegals that focuses on the important paralegal skills not taught in certificate programs.
Ann started her paralegal career as a litigation paralegal and then was a manager of paralegals for many years prior to starting her own company in 2010. When she’s not working, you can usually find her somewhere near an ocean – either scuba diving, boating, cleaning up a beach, or volunteering to help save sea turtles.