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The Internet has forever changed how lawyers practice law. Many courts now require electronic filing of documents, the Securities and Exchange Commission requires all securities filings to be sent electronically, and corporate transactions are often the result of numerous drafts and redlines exchanged by e-mail and in electronic deal rooms. The speed and ubiquity of e-mail and other technological advances pose special risks for young attorneys. Young attorneys must be very careful and prudent in their use of technology, especially e-mail. With its inherent informality, e-mail can pose problems in your interactions with opposing counsel, your client and others within your firm. Think before you send anything controversial in an e-mail. Even when the content of an e-mail is not an issue, you must still read it before you hit the send button. Taking the time to closely review the message is the only way to stop yourself from inadvertently sending information to people who were never intended to see it. Finally, make sure that the e-mails that are important are being saved in a manner that is useful. THINK BEFORE YOU HIT SEND Everyone has done it, or come close to doing it. You receive an inflammatory e-mail and your first reaction is to bang out a response and fire a volley right back. It may seem like an informal medium, but that ill-considered response is going to be available for time immemorial for everyone to see. Your heated response might be entirely appropriate. But trust us, if it is, it will be just as appropriate after you have spent some time cooling down and making sure that it is really the response that you want to send. As a general rule, think to yourself: 1. Would you be comfortable if everyone on your team saw the e-mail you are sending? 2. How would your client react if they saw the message? 3. Are you accomplishing anything constructive with your response? Unless you are comfortable with the answers to all three questions do not send the message. More often than not, if you have any doubts about whether to send a message, you should seek guidance from someone more senior. These same rules apply to less heated situations. For example, your client asks you a broad and ill-defined question and seeks your input. You should be mindful that it is very possible that your client is going to distribute your response to others within that organization. If your message does not reflect the entire context of your discussion, or fails to properly qualify the context in which it is given, you run the risk that others at the client might get the wrong idea about your advice to everyone’s potential detriment. As a result, you should treat an e-mail offering advice to the client in the same way you would treat a written memorandum on the topic and you should apply the same rules. The temptation to offer quick and informal advice in an e-mail is a potential pitfall that can cause nothing but trouble. No discussion of the use of e-mail would be complete without a reminder of the many times personal aspersions, innuendo and gossip have swirled out of control from one e-mail account to another. As a professional, locker room chatter and office gossip should be avoided, whether by e-mail or otherwise. READ BEFORE YOU HIT SEND It is a natural temptation to finish typing a message and triumphantly hit send to signal its completion. Dramatic as that is, your euphoria may be short-lived. Most of the embarrassments (and many of the disasters) that come from e-mail could have been avoided if the sender had simply taken the time to read the message before they clicked the send button. Of course, as with everything you do, you should make sure that your messages are free from typographical and grammatical errors. That is not what we are talking about. You should be reading the entire message with a critical eye. To whom are you sending the message? Everyone has replied to a message thinking they were only responding to the sender only to find out too late that the message has gone to everyone. It is very easy to hit “Reply All” when you meant to hit “Reply” or “Reply with History.” You need to look closely to make sure that you are not inadvertently sending the message to someone who should not see it. In the haste of sending a quick message, it is often too easy to include people that you never intended. There is also the danger of people with similar names in your address book. Are you sending the message to Jane A. Smith who is the partner in charge of the matter or Jane B. Smith who was opposing counsel on another matter a few months back? While it only takes a moment to check closely, inadvertently sending the message to the latter can cause you and your client real embarrassment. More than anything else, lawyers use e-mail as a way to distribute documents. It is important to check the attachments carefully. The possibility of hastily attaching the wrong draft or the wrong document poses a real and potentially significant danger. As a rule, for safety, open the attachments in the draft e-mail to assure yourself that you are actually sending what you intended. GET IT IN THE FILE If you sent a letter by snail mail to opposing counsel, chances are you would make sure that a copy of that letter was placed in the proper file. The same should be true of e-mail. Law firms delete e-mails after a certain period of time, making retrieval difficult. If it was important enough to send the message, it is important enough to make sure that a record of that e-mail be in the proper file. To be sure, most of this is common sense. But, all the same, experience has shown that the sheer volume of e-mails being sent causes many people to stop heeding common sense. As an attorney representing clients on important matters, you must make every effort to avoid the temptation to use e-mail in haste. Being a great lawyer requires that you avoid embarrassing yourself and injuring your client by careless use of e-mail. Jeffrey A. Fuisz is a partner and Alison M. King is an associate at Kaye Scholer.

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