In by the back door

Davies Arnold Cooper has issued a warning bulletin to all its clients about the potential legal problems that can arise from using email.

Practitioners in the intellectual property department at the firm said that if used appropriately email is a quick and efficient way of communicating. However, they warned if it is used carelessly it could seriously prejudice a legal dispute.

Catrin Turner, senior assistant solicitor in the firm's IP department, said: "People are using email as an alternative to the telephone. They do not realise that like internal memos, email messages may have to be disclosed in litigation and end up in the public domain if the case goes to trial."

Practitioners have advised clients to ask themselves whether email is the most appropriate way to send a message, to organise their thoughts before drafting the message, to consider the wider audience and whether incoming messages should be deleted or not.

Clients are also told that if a legal dispute seems to be a possibility, non-privileged email must be preserved and may have to be disclosed in full to their opponent.

"Email is not established enough yet for people to understand its full implications. The best way forward in our view is to tackle the issue at source by educating those using email to treat it with at least as much care as they would treat hard copy documents," said Turner.

John Irving, director of the professional practices unit at BDO Stoy Hayward management consultants, said: "Email is rapidly becoming established as an acceptable form of modern business communication. I often receive messages this way but some people don't appear to take as much care with spellings, grammar and content as they would do with a printed document.

"The time is right for emails to be subject to the same control as more traditional communication media. Perhaps firms need to include training in the use and etiquette of email mandatory in their professional development programmes."

Turner