This is part two of a two-part post addressing ten of the most common questions new clients ask about email.
6. When is it not okay to delete emails?
On the other hand, if you suspect that a lawsuit could result over something that was discussed in an email, then you have an absolute duty to preserve the data. If you intentionally delete that email, in an attempt to “destroy the evidence,” you are likely to wind up in big trouble. And this applies regardless of whether your last name is Petraeus, Cheney, or Clinton.
7. Some people say email isn’t secure, that true?
Yes, it’s true. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use email. It just means that certain kinds of data, or sensitive subject matter should not be send using email (unless it’s encrypted, of course). (This is just a very simplified, short answer to a very complicated issue, by the way.)
So why are the disclaimers there? Company lawyers often insist on them because they see others using them. As with Latin vocabulary and judges’ robes, once something has become a legal habit it has a tendency to stick. Might they at least remind people to behave sensibly?
8. What kinds of data should not be sent using email?
As a general rule, you should NEVER send credit card numbers, social security numbers, or passwords/login data of any kind through email. Also, federal regulations prohibit transmission of certain medical data using email, and although the regulations may not apply to you personally, it’s a good idea to avoid it anyway. You don’t want the results of your blood test, pap smear, or psychological evaluation to become publicly known. Enough said?
9. Do I need an email signature for my personal email, and if so, what should it say?
Again, this is personal preference. Some “experts” say it’s proper email etiquette to include a brief signature at the bottom of each email you send (or at least the first one in a thread). I have a few different email signatures that I can use for my personal email address; they differ insofar as whether they include my cell phone number, Twitter handle (@j0eybagodonuts), and whether or not I’m a lawyer. (I don’t use “Esq.” after my name, but even still, most of the time I feel like it’s unnecessary to announce the fact that I’m a lawyer, especially in personal contexts; a lot of people have strong feelings or preconceived notions about lawyers, most of which I would prefer not to identify with. The only time I will sometimes include the fact that I am a lawyer is when I’m dealing with a customer service representative who is refusing to provide customer service.)
10. Should I have one of those fine print, fancy-looking disclaimers at the bottom of all of my sent email?
This is an easy one. NO! Google it; those disclaimers are 99.9% meaningless and enforceable. In spite of that, we used them here at the firm for the first few years, mainly because we didn’t want to look different from every other law firm, but I eventually made a unilateral decision to banish them. I can’t recall anyone ever asking why we don’t use disclaimers, but I think it would be amusing if someone ever did.
Those are pretty succinct answers to the questions I get from clients on a weekly basis. Look for an upcoming post addressing email etiquette and email best practices. But in the meantime, if you have a question about email that I didn’t address here, feel free to leave it in the comments section, and I’ll be sure to respond in kind.