Why an “Emoji” and “Dear Valued Client” should never be in the same email.

DISCLAIMER: While we are not lawyers or legal experts, we know a thing or two about legal document formatting and structure.

Before the smartphone revolution, law professionals were very familiar with the confines of their office. Today, we rely on our smart devices for drafting legal correspondence, accessing legal documents, legal research scheduling, billing and far more that we could have in decades previous. Our smart devices are essentially our mobile office.

Due to the power of our mobile tech, the traditional law office has changed greatly in the last few years. As lawyers get called to their home, the courthouse, airports, clients offices, and more, their work follows. According to a 2016 ABA Tech Report, lawyers are getting more and more comfortable with using mobile technology to do their work.

  • 40% use their smartphone or tablet as their primary mobile work device.
  • 39% of lawyers spend more than a quarter of the week away from the office.
  • Nearly 80% of lawyers reported that they used their mobile phones for work-related tasks.

With Greater Mobility, Comes Great Responsibility

The convenience of mobile technology has its advantages. Some would argue that the art of communication isn’t made better when it is being done from the 18th hole of a golf course. Somewhere in the subconscious, we tend to forgo the standards of drafting legal correspondence when using our phones.

Drafting and sending legal correspondence via mobile devices can get us into trouble if we’re not careful. Here are several key etiquette tips that you should follow to preserve (and even enhance) your reputation and credibility as a legal professional.

1. Avoid Sarcasm & Condescending Phrases

Face-to-face conversations allow people to have more leeway when it comes to understanding sarcastic remarks and condescending phrases. If you are known for witty banter with your clients or well-timed punchlines, you may feel comfortable with sending messages laced or lightly seasoned with your sarcastic personality in that way. The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) states that such elements as personal attacks, sarcasm and condescending language “have no place” in the world of legal writing. The report further states that “attacking others won’t advance your reasoning” and serves as a distraction for your readers, causing them to wonder “whether your substantive arguments are weak.”

The last thing that you need as a legal expert or even as a law office staff member is to have someone question your ability to excel at your job based on the sarcastic remarks or condescending statements made through an SMS message or email sent from your mobile device.

2. Place an Emphasis on Mobile Security

When using a smartphone or tablet to communicate with legal clients and courtroom staff, you should always view mobile security as a top priority. Keep in mind that you possess pertinent and confidential information within these devices just by having your colleagues, courtroom officials and clients saved within your contact lists in the first place. Protecting the information shared between you and your professional contacts must be kept safe and secure at all times. Only 43% of lawyers reportedly have a mobile technology policy in place for their firm.

With the high level of confidentiality and trust invested in you by your clients and colleagues, you run the risk of destroying your reputation (and possibly much worse) by making it easy for hackers and cybercriminals to access your systems and take whatever they want.

Use strong passwords, avoid downloading suspicious files from untrustworthy sites and pay close attention to how and when you are using your mobile devices. Keep in mind that Wi-Fi hotspots are perfect targets for even inexperienced cybercriminals. If you must access one of these remote Internet access points, it is highly recommended to add another layer of protection by investing in and setting up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for your mobile devices.

3. Never Add an Emoticon or “LOL” to Any Message

According to Adweek one study claims that 92 percent of online consumers use emoticons when communicating with their smartphones and tablets. Whether it is within a quick text message, lengthy email or even a typed document, it seems almost natural for many people to add a smiley face or any other of the emojis featured on a seemingly endless list of options with their content for one reason or another.

When communicating with your friends and family, you may even string together multiple emoticons in lieu of actual phrases and sentences. The key phrase to remember, though, is “friends and family.” While it may be common to send emoticons to personal contacts, you should never blend this informal and unprofessional symbols and images within your legal correspondence.  The same rule applies with abbreviated terms and phrases such as “LOL” or “SMH.” It’s important to avoid these types of abbreviations when drafting your legal correspondence. Doing so can potentially ruin your reputation as a professional and respectable expert within your industry.

4. Do Not Be Afraid to Actually Use Your Phone For Calls

For many, the application on your smartphone that actually makes phone calls is very underused. There are many different advantages to using your smartphone or tablet to send quick text messages and emails to clients and colleagues. However, you must ensure that the message being relayed is even fitting to put with an email or text message. According to Inc magazine, it is not wise to handle situations that either needs to be explained in detail or even negotiated through emails and/or text messages.

In addition, you should never share bad news or last-minute changes/cancellations via text messages and emails. Proper etiquette shows that the best form of communication in these instances (aside from face-to-face communication) is to give them a call on the phone. More and more consumers these days seem to use their phones more for emails, social media posts and text messages than actual talking. As a legal expert or law office employee, you cannot afford to think and react along the same lines. Your top focus should be reaching out to your clients efficiently and effectively – keeping them informed and involved throughout the legal process related to their case(s).

Personally, you may feel as if there is nothing wrong with communicating mostly via text messages and emails. However, professionally, this is not the case and should be followed accordingly.

5. Edit Each Message like a Term Paper

When you had to write term papers in college (or any major writing assignment/project), you may have combed through it multiple times to ensure that everything was in place before submitting it to the teacher. The same principle applies to high-quality legal writing and correspondence as well. You should maintain the same tedious, detail-oriented perspective regarding the content of your messages before hitting “Send.” The American Bar Association (ABA) Journal advises legal experts to “cut every unnecessary sentence” and then go back through the document to “cut every unnecessary word.” View every single message or post that you create with any device as a rough draft that must be reviewed, revised and then reviewed again long before it is submitted or presented to the audience. The same article also recommends an additional proofreading session beyond the number of proofreads “you think necessary.”

Take a second to read out loud your completed message to make sure everything sounds correct. If you approach each legal document, memo or message with this first-class level of detail, your clients and colleagues will continue expecting top-quality performances from you inside of the courtroom and quality paperwork outside of it.

The Bottom Line: Remember Your Reputation

As is the case with any type of legal correspondence, your reputation and the overall quality of your firm are always on the line. Whether you are sending a printed legal document with a company letterhead or just want to reach out to a client with a quick text message, you should always ensure that your legal correspondence is properly formatted and a high-quality representation of the high-quality service you provide within this industry.