Posts Tagged ‘email’

When a client emails from work…

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

According to (in a story brought to my attention through the KNOW: The Magazine for ParalegalsLinkedIn Group forum) the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility has issued an opinion that under the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct if a client is emailing his or her lawyer from a work computer or an employer’s electronic device, there’s a good chance that the communication could be intercepted by the employer. This in turn may impose a duty on the lawyer to warn the client “of the potential confidentiality concern.”

This opinion is, of course, only an opinion and it is based on the Model Rules, which may not be applicable to your state. However, it appears well reasoned. While the opinion and the rules themselves apply directly only to the attorney member of the legal team, this is of particular concern for paralegals because in many instances the paralegal is the primarly liason between the client and the law office. This means it will be the paralegal, not the attorney who will have the primary indication that the client is emailing from her workplace and should be warned of the confidentiality implications.

When this happens it is likely that the paralegal will have an inclination to so warn the client. However, “warn” appears to be a form of “advise” and paralegals cannot give legal advice. So, the correct step would be for the paralegal to bring the matter to the attention of the attorney. Alternatively, the law office could have a standard policy together with standard language to address this issue. If would be best to inform the client of the potential problem at the intial interview and request that all email be done through non-work devices and servers. In the event that the client “forgets” there can be a standing direction from the attorney to the paralegal to remind the client via the standard warning language.

So what if he’s a “a tyrant, an idiot, a weasel and a dump truck?”

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

We have all worked with, and often for, persons who meet this description (or something close to it.) Do not write it or even say it, except to the most intimate of your friends and relations. If those friends are fellow employees, don’t even say it to them. Do not post it on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. As a story in illustrates, it can become grounds for termination of your employment or – at the very least – ground for a defense against an a claim for wrongful termination.

One can certainly sympathize with the person who wrote these emails both because of the culture of the office at the time and because it is very, very hard to work with or for a tyrant, idiot, weasel or a dump truck, much less someone is embodies them all. But, office email and social networks (online or in person) are not the places to vent the frustration that goes with working with or for them. (As noted in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional the same goes for comments about clients.)

The problems is not all about the possible consequences, which go beyond lost of a job to the perception persons have of you as a professional. Even those who agree with you will think less of you for having lowered yourself to this form of name-calling. Worse, yet you will be (and therefore feel) less professional. This will cause you to lose some of the respect most necessary for empowerment – respect for yourself.

Email as a Communication Barrier

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Thanks to Lynne DeVenny’s I’ve now added to my list of paralegal blogs.

A post from August 19, “I’m Offended” deals with the difficulties that can arise when emails are used to communicate. The blogger notes, “Remember it is difficult to convey and discern tone and emotion in emails.” I discuss barriers to effective communication and understanding extensively in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional.” Even when communication takes place in person, these barriers range from linguistic and cultural differences to the need to accommodate diminished hearing and sight in the elder client. Just about any organizational administration and management points out that often the sender of a communication actually hinders communication by:

–> Not being clear about what is to be accomplished with the message;
–> Incorrectly assuming that the receiver has the knowledge necessary to understand the message and its intent and does not adapt the meeage to the intended receiver;
–>Using a communication medium not suited for the message, e.g., using email for a communication that really requires face-to-face meeting, and many other means.*

Going back to the Paralegal Ethicspost, the blogger notes, “The originator of the email series was trying her best to gently deliver some news that she expected would disappoint or even anger the primary recipient of the email.” It may be that the basic problem here was not that the originator did not use the correct words, but that he or she used the incorrect medium. News that is expected to disappoint and anger simply should not be delivered by email. While it may initially appear easier because the email acts as a shield between the person delivering the message and the person receiving it, in the long run it is more likely to create difficulties and very likely to increase the inherent difficulties.

The professional approach is to use the correct cummunication medium for creating the best understanding even when the message being delivered is an uncomfortable one.** Thanks to technologies such as Skype, a personal approach can be taken even over great distances.

*Swanson, et. al., Police Administration, 7 ed. 350-1 (Pearson/Prentice Hall 2008)

“The Paralegal” Speaks on Time Management

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

As regular readers of this blog know, time management is one of the basics of paralegal empowerment and professionalism. So, I enjoyed reading Ana Perrio’s post regarding time management onThe Paralegal. According to her website, Ana Pierro, “is a paralegal supervisor in the Office of the General Counsel at a large financial institution in the Greater New York area.   Ana has over 16 years experience working in law firms and in corporate legal departments with experience in insurance defense, plaintiff’s personal injury and product liability, asbestos litigation, securities litigation, compliance, regulatory work recently government affairs.”

Ana’s post two of the biggest impediments to time management: the telephone and email. The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional” devotes entire chapters to time, workload, and client management. Ana is correct that time management requires active management of email and telephone. If you do not control them, they willcontrol you. So, I recommend some specific rules. These are rules that you put in place to govern the way you manage emails and calls. Click here to check out the fundamentals for email rules and client management phone rules.

Professional Advice from Arizona

Sunday, June 13th, 2010 has an article by Justin Doom that collects advice for persons working in offices from local experts including a Phoenix-area firm that specializes in recruiting attorneys, paralegals and receptionists. The advice is much like that given in this blog, but worth the read for the emphasis and clarity of presentation. While cast as “Mistakes to avoid if you want to move up,” it is basic advice regarding professionalism. Here are the headers:

• Be aware of office politics.

• Communicate effectively.

• Hustle and show initiative.

• Sick pay is for actual sick time.

• Avoid excessive breaks.

• Stay off the Internet.

• Dress professionally.

• Be careful with e-mail.

Read more:

Online Ethics – Updated

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

We’ve spoken here previously about some of the perils of internet use in the law office. Today I am passing on a story from entitled, “Ethics Officials Seeing More Cases from Lawyers’ Online Foibles.” It is about lawyers, but is just as applicable to paralegals:

Lawyers who are more circumspect in person are making online mistakes that are landing them in trouble with ethics officials.

James Grogan, chief counsel of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, recalls an early case that got the attention of bar counsel in more than one state, the National Law Journal reports. Steven Belcher, a temporary lawyer at a St. Louis law firm who was licensed in three states, was helping defend a wrongful death case when he decided to e-mail a picture of the deceased to a friend, the story says. The body of the overweight man was pictured lying naked on an emergency room table. Belcher added his own commentary.

The result was a 60-day suspension, the story says. “It got our eyebrows up,” Grogan told the publication. “We thought, ‘Wow, are we going to see more of these?’ Well, I think it’s clear we are starting to see more.”

The story notes an increase in interest in the issue. Bar associations and bar counsel hold seminars on online ethical mistakes, and the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 will consider whether existing ethics rules adequately address online transgressions.

“It’s not as if lawyers never misbehaved before,” the story says. “But now they’re making the same old mistakes—soliciting for sex, slamming judges, talking trash about clients —online, leaving a digital trail for bar counsel to follow.”

Susan Gainen’s post, “6 Rules for Protecting Confidential Information” (brought to my attention by Lynne Devenney at Practical Paralegalism) is well worth the read in this regard. Her first two rules are:

1. Your conversations. Never talk about clients or client business outside of the office. The guy at the table next to you knows EXACTLY who you are talking about because his client is on the other side of the deal.

2. Your tweets or blog posts. Tweeting or blogging about your work are very smart business development tools, but they are also fraught with peril. Robert Ambrogi lists 16 good reasons to Tweet, but notes: “Before you post to Twitter, consider the consequences. A casual tool such as this makes it easy to unwittingly create an attorney-client relationship or overstep an ethical rule. Even with only 140 characters, you can easily get yourself in hot water.”

The point is that “online” is “outside the office” even if you are sitting in the office when you blog, tweet, email, or otherwise reveal information. Unless your system is secure, even internal communications may be exposed to the “outside.”


Just an additional thought from Steve Lohr’s story in the New York Times on the Library of Congress archiving Twitter messages:

Knowing that the Library of Congress will be preserving Twitter messages for posterity could subtly alter the habits of some users, said Paul Saffo, a visiting scholar at Stanford who specializes in technology’s effect on society.

“After all,” Mr. Saffo said, “your indiscretions will be able to be seen by generations and generations of graduate students.”

People thinking before they post on Twitter: now that would be historic indeed.

Professionalism and the Departing Paralegal – Updated and Balanced

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Above the Law has a great post entitled “When Paralegals Burn Bridges,” that includes most of the text of a parting email the paralegal sent to his or her attorney (and blind-copied to the rest of the office.) The post is great because we all know the type of person to whom the email is addressed and would all relish the chance to send such an email. It also great because it acknowledges the problem the paralegal now faces in the title – he or she has burned bridges that cannot be rebuilt.

The bridges are not just to the firm being left. Word travels quickly. Even firms that agree with the assessment of the professionalism attorney being left will not appreciate the lack of professionalism on the part of the paralegal. Thus, while the email is understandable, it is not one I would have advised sending.

Assuming the factual accuracy of the email, the paralegal’s assessment of the attorney is correct:

That really screams professionalism let me tell you. I guess it just goes to show that even a good education can’t give you simple skills on how to work with people

Unfortunately this parting blast, even from the most dysfunctional firm (and this one seems very dysfunctional, also does not speak of professionalism. While the paralegal leaves “with my head up,” the head could have been held even higher if the email had been written and delivered in a professional way. (There is a professional way to do these things.) One concern I have is the position such a sudden departure may have on clients.

Bear in mind that I am not being critical here. I totally sympathize and empathsize with this paralegal. I agree with the decision to quit, especially if the paralegal or others have drawn the attorney conduct to the attention of the firm and no action was taken to correct it. It is precisely my understanding of and empathy for the paralegal’s position that makes me wish the parting had been accomplished with the  professionalism necessary to protect the paralegal’s future.

Not that anyone at the firm would care, but if the paralegal’s statements are accurate, the firm should dis-associate the attorney. If she acts this way with the staff, it makes its way to the clients and the public. Her lack of professionalism will be perceived as a lack of professionalism on the part of the entire firm. If nothing else, the low morale on the part of the staff costs the firm in productivity and effectiveness on a daily basis. When the low morale leads to the staff leaving, the costs of finding and training a replacement are huge.

To even out this post, I’m including a link to Melissa H.’s blog where she has been reporting on her decision to leave her attorney for another position in another state. Her circumstances are clearly not the same as she worked for an attorney worthy of some loyalty, but even at that her story is a welcome antidote to the one above and demonstrates some real professionalism.

By the way, a post on the Paralegal Today listserve indicates that Melissa is not the only paralegal fortunate enough to build a paralegal-attorney team relationship that engenders loyalty on both sides. Linda Whipple, a American Association for Justice Paralegal of the Year award winner whose work I’ve quoted before, writes, “When you work with one attorney for a long time and become a “TEAM” such as Bob Spohrer and I have become, if he had been working for another firm and decided to leave and form his own firm, I obviously would have gone with him – it’s a loyalty thing. He’s loyal to me and I’m loyal to him.”

Judge Hit by Emoticon!!!!

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

That isn’t even close to true and I’m surprised you bought into it. However, it will, I hope, draw some attention to this follow-up to my post on an attorney’s advice for using emoticons, or email in general, for communication. This time the advice is from a judge. As reported by ABAJournal

Judge Gerald Lebovits has some opinions about the propriety of exclamation points and emoticons in e-mails.

Basically you should “Lose the emoticons. They don’t convey meaning in a professional setting.It is always nice to see a judge, even if he is not on the Supreme Court, agree with me. He expresses those opinions in 60 foot notes in an article first published in the New York State Bar Association Journal! The footnotes also discuss the use of exclamation points!!

• Exclamation points have their place. They can show enthusiasm and human warmth. Writing “Congratulations!” is expressive, while “Congratulations” may sound apathetic or sarcastic. But don’t use exclamation points after expressing a negative emotion—it’s the same as throwing a tantrum.

You can find the full NYBA Journal article here.

Don’t point that smiling emoticon at me!

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Tuesday’s New York Timescontains an article regarding advice from a law firm senior partner to young lawyers regarding the use of email communications. The point of the article is really that there are some things that simply must be done face-to-face. He is advice was in the context of using communication technology to avoid travel costs, but it seems to me it applies not only to lawyers, but paralegals, and applies even when the person with whom you are communicating is just across town or in the office down the hall:

Emoticons may work in personal communications. But Don G. Lents, the chairman of Bryan Cave, the international law firm, said he doesn’t like seeing them in business communications. If you’re depending on a smiley face to communicate a thought to a client or a distant colleague, he tells young lawyers in his firm, you should probably step away from the keyboard, get on a plane and communicate in person. Especially if the communication involves any kind of dispute.

“You should never engage in a disagreement electronically,” Mr. Lents said he advises them. “If you are going to disagree with somebody, you certainly don’t want to do it by e-mail, and if possible you don’t even want to do it by phone. You want to do it face to face.”…

“That’s an important message that does not necessarily come naturally to a lot of younger people today who have grown up with so much of their communications being by texting and e-mail,” he said. “I tell our younger lawyers, if you think you are going to have a difficult interaction with a colleague or a client, if you can do it face to face that’s better, because you can read the body language and other social signals.”

“In texting and e-mails or even videoconferencing, you can’t always gauge the reaction and sometimes things can have a tendency to be misunderstood, or they can ratchet up to a level of seriousness that you didn’t anticipate,” he added. “In person, you see that somebody reacting in a way that you didn’t expect. Then you can stop and figure out what’s going on, and adapt.”

The importance of body language and the ability to communicate as well as exchange information are difficult to overstate, as indicated by the extensive treatment given to them in the chapter on dealing with attorneyr relationships in The Empowered Paralegal.

However, I’d also like to emphasize Mr. Lent’s admonishion not to use emoticons and the like in business communications. It’s fine in personal communications, but just does not cut it professionally. Remember that all communications, even those between you and another paralegal working on a case, may be reviewed at some point by a client (when they take the file to another attorney), by another attorney’s office, by a malpractice insurance carrier, be a malpractice jury, or by the Board of Bar Overseers or other entity regulating attorneys. If a client’s complaint relates to a lack of professionalism (and they all do in a way), a file filled with unprofessional communications is not a good start.

I require my students to communicate with me with the same professionalism they should demonstrate in the office. An email that reads, “CN U MEET @ 4? J” will not get a response, while  

 Prof. Mongue,

  Are you available to meet with us at 4:00 p.m. today? 

 John Student.


“Deluge of information” flows downhill

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009 posts on a article with suggestions on how attorneys can “streamline the flow” of information deluging them each day, especially information delivered electronically. One of the suggestions is to delegate initial email reading to others. And who in the office can be trusted with the confidentiality issues while exercising sound judgment, knowledge of law and understanding of both office and legal process?

Shifting of initial attorney email reading to paralegals makes sense, but only if it is not going to overload and overwhelm the paralegal. Doing so will only pass the deluge down to the paralegal who, one presumes was fully occupied already. Of course, a deluge rolls down hill, so perhaps the paralegal will shift initial reading of their email down that hill! I prefer the use of email rules and other technological solutions before simple task shifting.

I also prefer some of the other suggestions of the article better. Suggestions such as eliminating unnecessary information flow at its source. And I certainly agree that a team approach to solving the information overload problem is best (although the article using the team approach in a different context than I intend here.)

In The Empowered Paralegal I focus on eliminating and controlling not only information overflow but other distraction based on my conclusion that multi-taskers, even young multi-taskers, really do not work as well as uni-taskers, and certainly not as well as multi-taskers think they work.  So, it is nice to find some confirmation of this in the article:

A recent study of 100 students concluded that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time. The heavy multi-taskers couldn’t help thinking about the tasks they weren’t doing. These high multi-taskers are always drawing from all the information in front of them. They can’t keep things separate in their minds. One researcher reportedly stated that heavy multi-taskers are “suckers for irrelevancy. Everything distracts them.”

Thus, my goal of having only one file on the desk at a time. If you can stand a bit more information check out the Law.comarticle for more tips on controlling electronic information deluge.