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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    July 20, 2018

    Final Thought
    Email Decorum: No Excuses

    Improve the reputation of lawyers in one easy step: respond to email messages – in a timely way.

    Kristen D. Hardy

    It happens to the best of us.

    You receive an email while running to a meeting or finishing up an important memo. The email isn’t one you consider “urgent” so you quickly close the notification and continue your work. “I’ll respond when I’m finished,” you say to yourself. But you don’t respond. Instead, you finish your memo, have lunch with an old colleague, get fired up about your 2 p.m. meeting, stay late to go over an upcoming CLE presentation, and do a little bit of everything except respond to the less than critical email.

    Kristen D. HardyKristen D. Hardy, Marquette 2014, is compliance counsel at Rockwell Automation Inc., Milwaukee.

    A day turns into a week – a week turns into two. During your monthly email clean-up you notice the now-stale, unintentionally ignored email lying dormant in your inbox. “Is it too late to respond? I was really busy. Surely the sender will understand.” Perhaps he or she will be understanding. But what happens when your tardiness becomes a habit? Will your colleagues and clients continue to be so understanding? Or will they begin to view you as unreliable, or even worse, irresponsible?

    Without getting into a conspicuous contest of whose schedule is the most hectic, it’s safe to say that personally and professionally, we’re all busy. Other professionals tend to empathize with a lawyer’s busy schedule (note: your mom is less likely to be this empathetic – call her back immediately). Most people recognize that an unanswered email often requires a follow-up phone call. The danger, however, is when legal professionals begin to unintentionally take advantage of others’ understanding and grow apathetic in their knack for neglecting emails, especially based on the sender. We’re likely to respond expeditiously to an email from a client. We would never ignore an email from the general counsel. So why are we so blasé about responding to emails from our colleagues, professors, or friends?

    As lawyers, it is our responsibility to set the tone for future members of the bar. Think about the professional tenor we set with our ill-mannered email habits. Many of my colleagues have shared indistinguishable stories of law students alleging they are “too busy” to provide timely responses (and by timely, I mean within two weeks). Others have mentioned a propensity for students to outright ignore emails from attorneys altogether. Are our habits as lawyers having a so-called trickle-down effect on students? Are certain generations refusing to regularly engage using email? Or are millennials (me included) entering the workforce and disseminating these off-putting habits throughout the profession? Regardless of who’s to blame, it is important that we call this behavior what it is – impolite – and steer clear of it as frequently as possible.

    In an era of smart watches and phones, there are only a handful of acceptable excuses for failing to respond, in some way, to an email or text message.

    Whether you’re a fan of technology or abhor the new “always plugged in” norms, exercising proper communication decorum in line with technological advances is important. And while every email may not require an immediate response, we need to be conscious of the perception we give off when our responses become increasingly delayed – so delayed that we eventually don’t respond at all. In an era of smart watches and phones, there are only a handful of acceptable excuses for failing to respond, in some way, to an email or text message. After all, absent the ability to speak face-to-face or by phone (undoubtedly the most effective ways to communicate), emailing and texting, depending on the recipient and subject matter, are fine ways to communicate efficiently.

    So the next time you think about delaying an email response until it enters into the unanswered abyss, flag it for later, quickly respond, or write a sticky note as a reminder. Your colleagues will thank you.

    Meet Our Contributors

    What is one of the biggest challenges you deal with as in-house counsel?

    Kristen D. HardyOne of the biggest challenges I face as Compliance Counsel is developing and delivering training that is equal parts engaging, compliant with various laws and regulations around the globe, and easily absorbed. Regurgitating statutes or policies may fulfill a legal requirement, but that alone won’t help our employees and distributors learn and retain crucial information.

    It is extremely important for companies to ensure they are training the right people on the right subjects at the right time. For multinational companies, in-house counsel has to ensure they are staying abreast of the laws governing the countries they operate in so that the training in those countries is consistent with the appropriate rules. Trying to strike the perfect balance is challenging, but also rewarding, particularly when our employees and outside companies respond positively by demonstrating their adeptness in any given subject matter.

    Kristen D. Hardy, Rockwell Automation Inc., Milwaukee.

    Become a contributor! Are you working on an interesting case? Have a practice tip to share? There are several ways to contribute to Wisconsin Lawyer. To discuss a topic idea, contact Managing Editor Karlé Lester at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6127, or email Check out our writing and submission guidelines.

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