Associate Advice, Biglaw, Email Scandals, Summer Associates

Summer Associate Email Etiquette: The Four Commandments?

email e-mail small message microsoft outlook Above the Law.JPGThere are many big questions in life. For example, email etiquette. “To” or “dear” or just a name? “Best” or “best regards” or “sincerely” or just your initials? Instant response or tasteful 15-minute delay?

Like many of the big questions, it’s hard to come up with definitive answers. But one summer associate has a core belief system that he thinks all fellow lawyers and law students should embrace:

The summer intern season / horror show is winding down. For the sake of next year’s crop of law student summer interns/associates, could you please post a commentary on annoying email habits? Maybe something similar to George Costanza’s rules for workplace behavior. Anyways, I was fortunate to work at least three years before heading back to school and learned some useful lessons about email etiquette. Apparently, these lessons do not reach most of my over achieving, nobody-has-ever-told-me-no-before law school classmates who come straight from undergrad.

– Chester Copperpot

Copperpot has brought Four Commandments back from the digital mountaintop. We blaspheme against some of them after the jump….

He criticizes those who can’t save their messages for the body of an email:

I humbly request that someone from your site address the masses about these annoying email habits:

1. People who write complete emails in the subject line.

We attribute this change in email behavior to the rise of micro-messaging, fueled by texting and tweeting. We have grown accustomed to fitting the complexities of communication into just 140 characters. Who needs a whole email when the subject of your message fits in the subject line?

We humbly disagree with Copperpot, though we believe that these types of subject lines should end with a telegraph-style EOM, so that recipients — young and old — know not to go looking in the body of the email for anything more.

2. Those who write an email in the appropriate space, yet their one word/line response is included with their sixty line confidentiality notice.

While unsightly, that simple “yes. sounds good.” response may be privileged or otherwise protected from disclosure. And it would just be annoying to have to change email settings to avoid this happening.

3. Email signature lines. Here is an actual example that contained a ten-line signature (I’ve redacted the specific groups to protect the student from further embarrassment):

President, (do nothing student club)
Vice President of Committees, (some big bar association group)
State Student Attorney, (clinic title)
Faculty Research Assistant
Associate Editor, (journal #1)
Associate Editor, (journal #2)
J.D. Candidate, 2011
(law school)
Executive M.P.A. Candidate, 2010
(Other graduate school)

Agreed. That is douchey.

Choose a nice sign-off, one to three official titles, one favorite hobby, a link to your Facebook profile, your Twitter name, your permanent address and your mailing address, and leave it at that.

4. Finally, and most importantly, response time to a directed email. Why is it that when an intern/summer associate finally receives a substantive email that compels their response, that person feels compelled to respond in less than sixty seconds? Email sent at 12:46pm an Overachiever future mega-jerkass intern responds at 12:46pm). Like the Supreme Court sometimes does, at least in Maryland v. Shatzer, can ATL impose, or at least suggest to its followers, an arbitrary rule on when someone can respond to a non-urgent email? Your humble reader would suggest, at a minimum, five minutes. This would hopefully demonstrate that you are somewhat busy and do not immediately depart from whatever it is you were or were not doing to click the Outlook notification in the lower right hand corner and reply to your superior with an affirmative on their request.

Sorry about that. We wanted to appropriately delay our response to this admonishment.

We disagree. It’s better to respond right away than with needless delay. Sadly, we don’t often follow this bit of advice ourselves, and thus have emails deemed “not urgent” that have now been languishing in our inbox for weeks.

Far more douchey than an instant response is to never get a response at all, and then to have a person declare email bankruptcy.

Says Copperpot:

Please instruct the masses. It’s never too late. You may disagree on some points, which is fine, but I hope there is at least some common ground among those above-mentioned four points. Since talking on the phone has become taboo, at least instruct future big law bozos on how to communicate through the current popular method: email. Keep up the good work.

“The Who” was right when it penned their 1979 hit “The Kids Are Alright.” However, times change and the kids are not alright. Please. Speak up.

Dear readers,

What do you think of Copperpot’s Four Commandments?

Best regards,
Above the Law


Earlier: A Random Friday Poll: Your Favorite Email Sign-Off?

(hidden for your protection)

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