One of my jobs at Stowe Family Law is to carry out file reviews. Every month I pore over each file’s contents, read the correspondence, look at the documents and think long and hard about the best course of action for that case. It is a task that many lawyers loathe, because of its intensive nature, but it has to be done.
I have noticed that the amount of email correspondence continues to increase. This may be because our clients are scattered far and wide – our International Family Law Department is particularly busy at the moment; we are also seeing plenty of new clients from London and the South East – but it certainly appears that emails are here to stay.
Email has its advantages, but also creates challenges. Face-to-face meetings, which I far prefer, tend to give us all the chance to air our thoughts in more detail and in “real time.” Emails usually refer to one point in the entire case, and so make it easy to ignore the bigger picture.
If you are currently going through divorce, remember to use email wisely and respect the power that it has to change a situation, swiftly and suddenly. One Stowe Family Law client was libelled by his wife to the entire staff of an international organisation by email. It cost her dearly in the divorce – and nearly cost him his job.
With that episode in mind, I thought I would list ten pointers on email correspondence for the benefit of those who are going through divorce, or considering it. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but does include examples of the potential pitfalls of email and how best to avoid them:
1. Ensure that your email is completely secure and cannot be accessed by a third party. Some people believe their ex-partner cannot access their emails when he or she can, either with relative ease or by hacking into their computer.
Do all that you can to keep your communications private. Don’t leave them lying around on the computer to be accessed. Email software has a delete button, and you can also remove correspondence from your computer after it has been deleted. A conscientious family law firm will have a copy of your correspondence on file should it ever be needed.
2. It is very easy to hit the “Send” button and…. email the wrong person. This is far too easy for many people, especially in the evening after a glass of wine! Don’t copy in anyone else by mistake or write a reply that isn’t what you would have sent during the day. You can get a programme for your email to help prevent this type of mishap, such as the “Got The Wrong Bob” feature for Gmail. I recommend that you install it.
3. Don’t circulate emails about your divorce. It may be tempting to share certain emails, but all communications from your solicitor are private and privileged. You may also be committing contempt of court in certain cases by sharing details of your case in this way.
4. Please don’t become agitated if your lawyer does not respond to your email by return. Email is a fast form of communication, but the content of a reply must be properly considered and we may not be able to reply immediately. Please don’t become anxious if you have to wait a short period for an appropriate response. If a situation is urgent, you can always try and reach us in other ways.
5. But please reply to emails from your solicitor in a timely fashion! When we ask for information, it is because we need it to progress your case. Please don’t ignore the email and leave it unattended in your inbox, or worst of all delete it. Follow-up emails and reminders will cost you money. If you don’t understand what we are asking, let us know. Acknowledgment of receipt and a quick note to let us know that you will reply by a certain date will also help us enormously.
6. Try to keep your emails concise. Clients always tend to write more in emails than they might do when sending a letter or speaking over the phone. Try to keep your instructions as concise as possible. This will avoid the need for our time to be spent finding out exactly what you want to do, which will in turn increase costs.
7. Keep your costs down by contacting your lawyers only when necessary. Don’t be tempted to fire off an email because you have had an argument with your spouse. There isn’t much point, even if it does make you feel better.
8. Don’t assume that emails are a replacement for conventional forms of conducting a case. Do consider seeing your solicitor at each key stage or if your case hits any snags. If you aren’t in the vicinity of the office, arrange a Skype interview or a telephone conference. You shouldn’t leave it for us to guess what you are thinking at any stage of the process; more conventional forms of communication can be the best way of making your instructions explicit.
9. Don’t let your case drift. Don’t assume that regular emails absolve you of the need to get involved in your case. The more active you are, the more likely you are to achieve the outcome you desire.
It is very easy to concentrate on small issues in emails, think things are moving along and yet overlook the bigger picture. Where is your case moving overall and are you confident that the outcome you want will be achieved?
10. Read the whole message. Please read the entire email very carefully. Consider your response before replying. Last, but not least: don’t forget to open the attachments!
If you have any more guidelines or ideas about using email, please leave a comment – I would be very interested to hear your thoughts.