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The legal disclaimer at the bottom of my outgoing emails tries so hard to be taken seriously. You know the one, requesting that unintended recipients delete the message without copying it or further disclosing its contents, and warning intended recipients against reliance for purposes of tax penalty avoidance. It demands, by its length and dense legalese, to be taken seriously. But do those photos of my niece really need to be protected like the formula for Coke? When trading replies with another attorney whose e-mail automatically appends her version of my apocalyptic warning, the resulting e-mail string contains more legal verbiage than a television ad for blood pressure medication. Wouldn’t it be better if, instead, my IT department could take a page from Mission Impossible and provide me with a “legal” warning that: Regardless of whether you are the intended recipient of this message, if anything herein causes you offense, appears hastily drafted or poorly thought out, contains information (including metadata) that might allow you to successfully argue a waiver of privilege in a court of law, is curt, misspelled, or in any way causes you to think less of the sender, either personally or professionally, this email will automatically self-destruct in five seconds and all record of it will forever be permanently expunged. I mean seriously. Who hasn’t hit the “send” button on an email and immediately felt remorse? (E-remorse? E-morse?) Not to mention the stomach flip-flop that occurs upon sending a sarcastic or slightly risqu� reply, ostensibly to one of many on an original addressee list, only to have the momentary afterthought of “did I just hit ‘reply all’?” Usually, such paranoid reflections are baseless; and yet, every once in a while, an email immediately followed by a second stating that the sender would like to recall the first provides for amusing reading. (The “recall” message itself is grist for its own column; its only apparent purpose being to highlight the fact that the sender’s prior e-mail was so embarrassing that it should be opened IMMEDIATELY.) Such electronic communication errors have increased noticeably since the introduction of tiny screens, shrinking keys, and an ever-growing number of clients who seem to expect that requests for information or advice will be responded to within the hour, regardless of the time of day or night. Although an almost unavoidable part of being a lawyer in the 21st Century, late-night BlackBerrying is thus an activity highly prone to mistake due to equipment limitations, fatigue and bulbous thumbs, compounded by the desire to draft an expeditious response so that one may return to whatever activity was being enjoyed while ‘away’ from work, and before noticing the somewhat mesmerizing BlackBerry message light, signaling that someone, somewhere was beckoning. With BlackBerries being handed out to new associates at big firms almost as a matter of course, it might be time to also start handing out a list of real life Blackberry Do’s and Don’ts. Such guidance must go beyond the obvious, i.e., “Equipment failure will result if this device is placed in [a large body of] water, [including, but not limited to, a bathtub, punch bowl or swimming pool, alone or in combination.]” (Although we all know of a few attorneys who would have benefited from heeding the obvious as well.) To be useful, such warnings would be adequate to prevent associates from checking their new toys during the managing partner’s welcome speech or a client meeting, responding to a partner or client email with the same level of informality as used with a text message buddy, and leaving the ringer setting on “jet engine loud” during closing arguments at a three-month long trial. Of course, too many do’s and don’ts have the potential to overwhelm and cause unintended side effects, such as spending hours proofreading a one-paragraph client email, or quadruple-checking the To: and CC: lists to ensure that the proper Venn Diagram is in place. (ALL intended recipients, BUT NO unintended recipients, MUST receive the enclosed electronic communication.) For the most part, I’ve found that avoiding an electronic “oops” requires care, but not obsession. If you have to think about whether the content is appropriate for your intended recipient list, it probably isn’t. Until business parlance becomes second nature, erring on the side of formality is advisable. Double-checking the addressee list is also key. While it would be nice if the makers of the BlackBerry would include an easy-to-use spell checker, a once-over the entire message usually catches the worst grammatical offenders. At the end of the day, though, even if you have an electronic oops, don’t beat yourself up over it too much. ( Waiver of privilege “oopses” potentially notwithstanding.) It happens to the best of us. And if someone gives you a hard time over it, just wait. Their turn will come. Amy J. McMaster is an associate in the environmental department at Venable in Washington. Her practice focuses on both criminal defense and civil regulatory compliance.

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