The development in communication technology has seen exponential growth in recent years, and one area in particular is the use of email, which has shone a spotlight on the importance of email etiquette. According to a recent survey by the Central Statistics Office, email is the most popular activity carried out on the internet, with a staggering 93% of internet users surveyed in 2021 used email as a form of communication.
More interestingly, email stood out as being the most popular internet activity across all age groups. In the wake of the global pandemic, many employees are opting to continue working remotely, leading to even higher email usage. So across the board, our reliance on email as a form of communication, whether it be on a personal or professional level, has increased drastically.
For solicitors, email plays an important role in staying connected with clients, colleagues and peers within the legal profession. Email is a convenient form of communication. The advances in email applications has allowed us to securely send documents, images, videos, spreadsheets and so much more.
From a solicitors point of view, this is such a time saving method of communication, particularly if there’s an issue that needs immediate attention. However, despite the sheer number of emails we receive and send on a daily basis, many of us still do not understand the importance of knowing when and how to use email appropriately. So in this article, we are going to share some of the essential tips you need to know when it comes to email etiquette.
Here are our tips for good email etiquette
Be clear in the subject line
The subject line is the first thing you are going to read when you see a new email in your inbox. This will often be a deciding factor in your decision to open the email. Particularly if you’ve just opened your inbox at the start of the day, you may have many emails appearing in your inbox all at once. So the first thing someone is going to do is prioritise the most important emails to be actioned on.
Choosing a strong and direct subject line for your email is really important. It can be the difference between the receiver opening or ignoring your email. Purely from a marketing point of view, the average open rate for emails in the field of legal services is just 33%.
Also, whenever possible, use a subject line that is action-orientated such as “meeting date changed” or “paperwork to be signed”. It really comes down to using a subject line that highlights the necessary outcome or purpose of the email.
Use your professional work email address
Consistency is key when it comes to email etiquette and it’s important to make sure you are using your professional work email to communicate with your clients at all times, for a number of reasons.
First of all, it helps to set boundaries when it comes to working hours. If you fall into the trap of sending emails to clients during out of office hours from your personal email, then it can blur the lines between work and home life, as you become contactable 24/7.
Secondly, by using your work email, it portrays an air of professionalism and credibility to the receiver, whether it be a colleague, fellow solicitor or client.
Finally, it keeps a clearer chain of communication between you and the receiver. If you start introducing your personal email address in the line of communication, it can confuse your clients as to which email address they should use when contacting you. And using the one professional email address makes it easier to follow up on outstanding issues or if you need to search through the communications with a particular individual. In a nutshell, you have greater clarity when sticking to the one professional email address.
Design your professional signature
With the huge volume of emails we receive on a daily basis, it can be difficult to distinguish who we may be replying to. We live in an age where spam finds its way into our inboxes despite our best efforts to be cyber security conscious. It’s important to make it easier for your clients and fellow solicitors identify you in your email to them. Designing a professional email signature is a simple way of doing this.
Typically your email signature should include your full name, title/field of law, law firm and contact information. As we said already, consistency is key. So if you’re part of a large law firm, it’s always good to have a consistent email signature with the same font and brand colour that ties in with the firm. This will help your client become more familiar with the branding of your law firm.
Canva is a great tool for helping you to design your email signature. There are plenty of tutorials in their Design School section to guide you through your first creation.
Know the difference between CC and BCC
You’d be surprised at how many people don’t know the difference between these two options for entering email addresses. Obviously anyone who needs to take action in relation to the email should be included in the ‘To’ section.
The CC stands for Carbon Copy and in this field, you should include the email addresses of anyone who needs to be aware of what’s contained in the email but does not need to take action.
The BCC (blind carbon copy) field is where you add recipients whose identities must remain hidden, so any email addresses contained in this section cannot be seen by any other email recipients. People often use BCC to send an email to many recipients but want to ensure everyone’s privacy.
As solicitors, discretion and care is needed when handling sensitive data and information. Knowing how to correctly include contact information such as email addresses in the relevant fields is essential.
Be careful when clicking “Reply to All”
Particularly for solicitors, there’s often multiple parties involved with a case. For example, let’s look at a conveyancing case for the purchase of a new home. Within the chain of communication, you will have the buyer (the client), the buyer’s solicitor, the mortgage advisor, and the vendor as well as their own solicitor. Even with the most simple of cases, there can be a lot of going back and forth through emails. So you need to be careful when clicking “Reply to all” which will result your email being sent to everyone included in the chain of communication.
Most importantly, you could land yourself in hot water if you’ve disclosed something confidential in the email that should only remain between you and your client or possibly your colleague.
And of course, it be confusing and frustrating for everyone included in the dialogue and replies. Nobody likes to read emails that have nothing to do with them so the repetitive alerts of new mail in their inbox can be annoying.
As a rule of thumb, only select “reply to all” if you are completely sure that everyone on the list needs to receive the information in the reply.
Email etiquette means keeping it professional
From the greeting to the tone of your email, remember to keep it professional, particularly when emailing clients.
Casual greetings such as “Hey there” are completely acceptable if you’re emailing a colleague or close acquaintances within the legal profession. However, when starting out an email to a client, a more formal greeting such as “Good morning/afternoon” may be more appropriate.
Humour can often be misunderstood in the form of text or email. So consider how well you know the recipient before including funny jokes or witty commentary in the content of your email.
The tone of your email is also something to be considered. Your text on the screen can come across very differently from your speaking voice. While you may want to be straightforward and direct in your email, it may read as abrupt to the recipient. A simple way to avoid this is to read your email out loud before clicking on send.
And remember politeness goes a long way to demonstrate professionalism and respect. As the saying goes “Good manners open the doors. Bad manners close the open doors!” so be sure to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
Final points on Email Etiquette
- Proof read your email before pressing send – while autocorrect and spell checker are handy tools, you can’t always rely on them.
- Always add the email address after you’ve composed the email – this reduces the chances of you sending the email to the wrong recipient. And if you accidently press send before you have finished the email, you will be stopped in your tracks.
- Double check the email address of the recipient – it can be easy to select the wrong address from your list of contacts or make a typo in the email address.
- Consider the data size of any attachments you are sending to the recipient.
You may be considering using email to market your law firm and the pointers we have highlighted above are all relevant for this. However, if you’d like to know more about advertising your legal services, check out our webinar Advertising Regulations available on demand. In this webinar, we explore the hidden opportunities in a quiet revolution in the regulation of advertising Irish legal services. You can watch this webinar and many more on replay here
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