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Law Library News

Law Library News Archive

May 23, 2005.
Kristy Moon, editor.


Lost & Found

Have you recently lost or misplaced something in Gates Hall? Then stop by the Lost & Found at the Library Circulation Desk. If it’s been over two weeks, check the campus-wide Lost & Found located at the Husky Union Building Information Desk (hours and location at http://depts.washington.edu/sauf/hub/infodesk.php).

 

New Library Display – “Ask Us”

Sure, we can help you with legal research, but if you’ve ever wondered what types of questions are asked in the Reference Office, take a look at the new “Ask Us” display in the glass case by the Library entrance. Here are some past questions:

  • Where can I find copies of the laws passed when Washington was a territory (before it became a state)?
  • Where can I find a sample employment contract for a professional athlete?
  • Is there any data on the average cost of health care at the end of life, and in the last 30 days, 6 months, and 12 months?

 

Summer Job Tips (Part 3) & Book of the Week: E-mail

--Kristy Moon

Whether you think of e-mail as one of the greatest communication tools, a giant time-waster, or something in between, e-mail is an unavoidable part of today’s work life. And as such, it is worth giving some attention to, especially in light of (1) the concern that a panel of local attorneys expressed about law students not understanding appropriate e-mail style in a professional setting and legal ramifications of e-mail in the workplace, and (2) the probability that you’ll communicate via e-mail at your summer job and leave a lasting impression of yourself. (How lasting? See below.)

Christina Cavanagh’s book Managing Your E-mail: Thinking Outside the Box (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003) (TK5105.73 C38 2003 at Classified Stacks) is packed with information about e-mail. Below are some of her findings and recommendations.

E-mail Is Vulnerable

What is an e-mail message’s shelf-life?

  1. When I delete it, it’s gone.
  2. My employer has an expunge policy and it deletes e-mail records periodically.
  3. As long as the e-mail resides on the sender’s or receiver’s personal computer (either in the inbox or the folders).
  4. Potentially indefinite.

The shelf-life of an e-mail is potentially indefinite (even if the employer has an expunge policy and deletes e-mail records periodically) because every message that passes through the e-mail server is copied and saved on the backup.

At how many points can an e-mail message be intercepted?

  1. None.
  2. One – my employer’s server.
  3. Two – the sender’s outbox and the receiver’s inbox.
  4. Four – two employers’ servers and their backup tapes
  5. Almost infinite.

If you chose d or e, you’re on the right track. When an e-mail message is sent out on the Internet, it can be intercepted by third parties while the sender’s server attempts to connect with the receiver’s server.

E-mails are surprisingly vulnerable because they live forever, the sender has no control once they are sent out, and they can be used as evidence in litigation, which takes us to the next point.

Legal Ramifications

Electronic documents thought to be lost or destroyed can be recovered. For example, it is possible to recover and compare backups of documents to show that a particular document was altered or destroyed and when the activity took place. With e-mail, we’ve all heard of stories where messages were subpoenaed or dug up through discovery, and used either as evidence in litigation or to publicly embarrass the companies.

Although companies are increasingly monitoring employees’ electronic communications through software that flag suspect e-mails by searching for designated keywords, this does not mean that employers are actively reading employees’ messages – no employer has time or resources to do so. Still employers are concerned about possible liabilities and loss of productivity. (A survey by the American Management Association in 2002 showed that over 50 percent of companies review and record their employees’ e-mails and Internet usage, and 25 percent of companies have dismissed employees for abusing e-mail or the Internet while at work.)

  • Do not commit anything to e-mail that you would not want made public. Think of e-mail as akin to a postcard – anyone can read it.
  • Content-sensitive information such as competitive intelligence, intellectual capital developed within a firm, human resources issues, insider knowledge regarding organizational changes, and financial dealings (whether your e-mail system is encrypted or protected) should not be sent by e-mail. E-mails not touching upon these sensitive areas should be composed with the same care as a letter to a client.
  • Remember that there is no such thing as deleted e-mail.
  • Protect your e-mail account by locking your computer whenever you walk away from your desk. It would be extremely difficult to prove that you did not send a particular message.

Style

Sending poorly composed messages with typos and grammatical errors creates a lasting impression, over time, of the sender’s competence and overall capability. How do you feel when you receive an e-mail message that is quickly followed up with a second message correcting and clarifying the initial information? Even if this were to happen only two or three times in a span of six months, you might begin to give less credence to the sender’s messages and feel that your time is not being respected or valued.

  • Keep the e-mail tone personable but not personal. A phrase can come across differently when written instead of spoken, and a tone that is too casual, terse, or brusque may evoke an unintended response. Include a salutation, such as the receiver’s name, and a thank-you to add civility.
  • Errors such as typos, grammatical mistakes, missing words, sending the message to the wrong person, or accidentally hitting “reply all” can all be avoided by spell-checking (set this up as an automated feature) and quickly proofreading.
  • Try to enhance the readability of your message with paragraph breaks, headings, bullet points, and shorter sentences. A good rule of thumb is to keep the length of the message (including your signature) to one screen.
  • Do not use cutesy acronyms and emoticons. Many consider them to be unprofessional and the majority of e-mail users don’t know what they are.
  • Enter the receiver’s address last, after you’ve composed the message to your satisfaction; this prevents accidentally sending an incomplete or a possibly embarrassing message. Insert the attachment before composing the message; how many times have you received an e-mail that referred to a non-existent attachment?
  • Never send an e-mail when you’re irritable or tired, or you’ll live to regret it; instead, save it as a draft message and read it the next day.

For Summer Job Tips Parts 1 and 2, see http://lib.law.washington.edu/news/2005/May9.html and http://lib.law.washington.edu/news/2005/May16.html.