I read an article published by our friends at Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer entitled, “Toxic E-mail: A Careless Message Can Lead to Costly Lawsuits for Employers,” which discusses the importance of being mindful of appropriate vs. inappropriate email content. We have touched on this topic before, but it is worth reiterating…
One of the most valuable pieces of advice I have heard is this: “Never put something in an email that you wouldn’t want to have appear on the front page of the New York Times.” While email is the most expeditious way to communicate, we cannot stress enough that we all need to be cautious when it comes to content. Whether a negative tone or an off-the-cuff derogatory remark, things like this can ‘stir the pot,’ causing problems with individual team members or the firm as a whole if the emails are forwarded to unintended parties. Here are a few tips to consider:
- When we give advice to clients or prospects, make sure you are thorough and think through the issue so that the recipient does not use the information other than for what it was intended.
- Please keep controversial advice or discussion out of emails; choose to pick up the phone to discuss sensitive issues.
- Also consider picking up the phone when discussing recommendations with a client or colleague; you can always follow up with an email to summarize the conclusion.
- Do not send emails in anger; avoid email arguments. Typically if you are having a contentious discussion with a colleague, friend or client, please move it to a phone discussion. This will avoid unintended misunderstandings.
- Do not discuss someone else’s character or reputation in an email; you never know to whom it will be forwarded or who else will be viewing it.
- Finally, be careful with the use of sarcasm since tone is very difficult to reflect in writing.
The internal discussion about our work papers or technical positions that clients are proposing to take should be kept out of emails since this is time-sensitive information that will most likely change upon conclusion of the engagement. Often these types of emails can be read and be interpreted differently than was originally intended, and then can be used against us in the event of a future conflict. This can result in some stressful moments if our advice is challenged or an email winds up in court as part of a malpractice lawsuit.
Email can be retrieved even after you have deleted it from your inbox, and emails can sit on client servers or on hard drives of business associates for years, so please be mindful and careful of content.