Rules to follow in case your emails end up in litigation

Guest Post by Tammy Cummings, Esquire

It may not be the holidays, but for most business people, emails come in by the truckload year-round so it’s time to make an email resolution to maintain your sanity. As a business litigator who reviews and produces client emails in litigation, I believe a few minor tweaks in how emails are handled prior to litigation can make a big difference in a case. Cases can be won or lost over a single email. Here are five simple rules you should apply to your work emails starting today:

1. Write your emails as if the public is your audience. Be professional or at least courteous to everyone you are writing to or writing about, whether it’s your boss, assistant, friendly co-worker, the computer technician or the person who waters your plants. Almost everything can be discovered in litigation and can be used against you, your business or the company you work for by any somewhat creative litigator.

2. Keep your emails short, sweet and direct, if possible. Strive to make your emails clear and unambiguous. Rambling emails create unnecessary confusion about what tasks need to be done and
will be interpreted in many different ways when the email is turned over in litigation. Two or three sentences usually suffice.

3. Begin a new email for each new Subject or task. Often, litigators like me see email chains a mile long with content that has nothing to do with the Subject line. The Subject line should always reflect
the content of the email. Subject lines that don’t reflect the content of the email create confusion
when the email surfaces in litigation. Separate emails for different tasks keeps your
business more organized. A win-win.

4. Be meticulous about your grammar and spelling. Would you want a judge and jury of your peers to see that you don’t know how to spell or use grammar properly? Even proper capitalization matters. Use a spell-check and grammar-check tool, either automated or preferably, human-based to ensure 100% English correctness. If you don’t know how, call your computer technician now.

5. Don’t use your work email for anything personal. Create a bright-line rule for yourself that you will not use work email for anything personal and stick to it. All email on your work email account is property of your employer. It can be discovered in litigation and can potentially be used at trial.

If you have difficulty following these rules, then just run this one simple litmus test against any email you write and before you hit ‘Send’ – would I want this email I just wrote broadcasted to the world? If the answer is ‘no’, go back, revise and repeat the phrase.

Now here’s to your email resolution! May your emails never surface in litigation, but if they do, you will be glad you made this email resolution.

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