The better letter

If it's not email, it's snail mail. Email is a fast and efficient way of communicating and it would be criminally negligent to have a network and not have email.

Email cuts down on paper and gets your message across immediately. No need to have a memo typed and sent in the internal post. No need for telephone messages to be written out and walked round some time after the client called. It doesn't matter if someone is out of the office or not at their desk – you can send your message now and wait for their return. For maximum benefit, all members of the firm must have a PC on their desk and have access to the email.

If you are choosing an email package, here are some non-technical things you should look for:

Ease of use: if it isn't easy to use, it won't get used. Don't let the IT department choose it, let the lawyers, trainees and secretaries decide. It is more important that the system is easy to use than it is packed with clever features that may only be used by the office nerds. If you need a manual or more than one hour's training, there needs to be a good reason to use it. Incidentally, the system should also be fun to use.

The Martini factor: email should be accessible anytime, anywhere, any place. In other words, whatever application you are in, whether in DOS or Windows, you should be able to access the email without affecting or having to close your current work. When you finish on the email, you can then return to where you were. You should be notified that email is waiting by a tone, symbol or icon so that you don't have to check the email just in case.

The outside world: you may need remote users – lawyers working from home or at client sites – to be able to access the network and receive email from you. The email should be compatible with most of the other main applications.

Features: make sure you can operate these functions with ease:

Set up groups: so that messages can be sent to pre-defined groups – partners or the litigation department for example.

Receipt confirmation: if you want to know when your addressee opens your note, selecting an option will tell the email system to send you a confirmation message.

Carbon copy and blind copy options: these send a copy of a note to another user, with or without the main addressee being able to see that others have received it.

Cut and paste: lift wording from a word processed document and insert it into the email and vice versa. This saves time and effort re-typing.

Keep and organise email notes: you can create files or folders on different subjects that allow you to keep notes for future use or reference.

Attach files: if you are communicating across networks, you must be able to attach a file, such as a word processed document, to your note so that the recipient can then retrieve that file for editing or printing.

Having chosen the correct email package, you need to adopt guidelines to make sure it is used properly and efficiently. Here are some brief do's and don'ts:


Use email to leave a message if someone is away from their desk or on the telephone;

send a message instead of an internal note or telephone call whenever the communication is appropriate;

be careful about selecting who will receive your message;

ensure that the email message is as brief as possible;


send urgent notes or use interrupts unless the message is genuinely urgent; they are intrusive and interrupt the flow of work;

send a message to a group unless it is really of interest to everyone in that group;

feel you must always acknowledge a note by saying thank you or OK. It's a waste of the recipient's time to stop work, go into the email, look at this and then return to what he or she was doing;

use the email system to circulate gossip or jokes;

use more words than necessary, type in upper case or be rude or abusive.

Nigel Miller is IT partner at City firm Fox Williams.