8 common email mistakes (and how to avoid them)

As a legal professional, you will find yourself writing a variety of different emails. Whether the recipients are others in your firm, clients, or service providers, email is probably one of the most commonly used tools in your firm.

If used properly, email can be a great tool for communication. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Despite the average office worker spending more than 3 hours a day (that’s almost 15 hours per week!) emailing, mistakes still get made that could leave you embarrassed, and others irritated.

Given the volume of emails most legal professionals are sending and receiving, some errors are understandable. However, you can reduce mistakes by getting organized (check out our tips for getting on top of your inbox) and keeping some simple tips top of mind. Here are eight pieces of advice to follow that will help you make sure you are communicating in the best way possible, and making the most of those 15 hours of email.

#1 You forgot to use a greeting

It is fairly common these days to receive messages without a greeting line (text messages and instant messages, for example). When emailing, however, you should start with a greeting as though you were speaking with someone in person. In addition to the risk of coming across as rude, emails without a greeting are more likely to get marked as spam. The best way to fix this? Always remember to include a greeting — it will set the tone of your email, and make your message sound more professional.

#2 You used an unclear subject line

Using an unclear or vague subject line, such as a one-worded subject line, will also put  your email at risk for being marked as spam. It’s also best to avoid using caps in your subject line, as this can be perceived as the equivalent to shouting. Finally, overly wordy subject lines may lead your recipient to ignore your email completely because they can’t see the main reason you’ve written (remember, most email programs only display the first 50 characters or so). The best way to ensure that your email is read is to use a subject line that is clear, concise, and highlights the relevant and key points of what you want your reader to know.

#3 You sent the email before you meant to

Most of the time, you probably start creating an email by selecting the recipients you want to send to,  composing your message, and then pressing send. Sometimes, writers can get a little “send happy” and press the button too soon, sending a partially composed message. There’s a simple way to avoid this outcome: only add the recipients after you have finished composing your message.

#4 You forgot to attach something

How many times have you sent an email, only to realize that you forgot the attachment? To fix this, you probably then send a follow-up email apologizing and adding the attachment,  which can make you seem forgetful and/or unprofessional. Minimize this risk by following two steps: first, add the attachment first-thing when composing the email. Second, make sure you check the attachment before sending, so you are not unintentionally sending the wrong version of the document or the wrong document to begin with.

#5 You selected “reply all”

You’ve probably been the victim of receiving email messages from a colleague that may be irrelevant to you because they’re still hitting “reply all” despite the discussion long ceasing to be relevant to most recipients.  Some people will always rush to reply to all, but the best thing to do is make sure that you carefully consider who you want your audience to be, select the action that is most appropriate for your message, and hope your colleagues catch on (remember, if you’re using Outlook, you can always hit the ignore button to stop receiving reply-all emails that no longer apply to you).

#6 You emailed large attachments to colleagues

Do you and your colleagues often email large attachments back and forth? This can be time consuming due to the size of the file you have to repeatedly download. It can also be hard to remember which  version of the document on your computer is the most recent. To solve this, you might consider saving the files on the company network, or using a cloud-based document collaboration tool that will allow your team to send links to the latest version of a document instead of attachments.

#7 You emailed the wrong person

Today, there are many “helpful” functions within email clients that aim to help you decrease the amount of time you spend composing and sending emails. Sometimes, though, they are not as helpful as they try to be. These functions can include auto-fill and predictive text within the “to” section of your email that may increase your risk of sending an email to the wrong person. Not only will your email reach the wrong person, but you risk embarrassment or, worse, sending confidential information to the wrong person. You can prevent this error by always making sure that you carefully review the list of recipients you have selected before sending the email.

#8 You had a lot of mistakes in your email

It can be easy to forget to pay strict attention to spelling, grammar, and formatting when emailing because it is such an informal means of communication. A sloppy-looking email or one riddled with typos risks your reader losing confidence in you or not paying attention to what you’re saying. We cannot stress enough how important it is to double-check your email for these kinds of mistakes before sending the email. Forgetting this final review may result in you appearing unprofessional to your readers.

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About the Author

Lisa is the Community Marketing Manager at One Legal, responsible for keeping customers up to date with the latest news and updates and answering your questions via social media. You’ll find her tweeting @OneLegal or, when not at work, timing, running, and volunteering at footraces in northern California.

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