Workplace Email: The Devil Made Me Do It

People manage email in different ways. Some of us use our Inbox as a task list, filing everything that does not need attention.  Others use their Inbox as a storage site for any email that they may ever want to refer to again. You can imagine which group is better liked by IT departments across the globe.

We also have different standards for what is and is not acceptable from a usage or style perspective.  Emails that disregard sentence capitalization, for example, opting to use only lower-case letters, may drive some readers bonkers. Others may be more troubled by email senders who elect to use an atrocious and distracting “stationery,” which translates roughly to a pale beige background with fuzzy gray dots arranged in a grid pattern on which it is impossible to read any text smaller than 24 pts in bold font.

But what about the content of our emails?  There are tricky aspects of that, too, as many of us are all too well aware. Why is it that readers so often misinterpret messages as having a far more sinister or simply unfriendly intent?

Scott McDowell suggests some reasons in his post, Email Etiquette II: Why Emoticons (And Emotional Cues) Work.  I’ve been seeing a lot of articles like this lately and am thoroughly convinced of the accuracy of their premise. In short, despite our attempts to sound conversational in email correspondence, the electronic nature of the exchange prevents an actual conversation from occurring.  Without the chance to translate body language, intonation, and facial expressions, as we do so naturally during in –person conversations, we’re left to our own imaginations when putting emotions to the text we see on the screen.

And, as the post explains, if an email’s content is neutral (as many of us aim to achieve in our day-to-day business correspondence), he reader is more likely to assume that the tone is negative.  This theory of “negativity bias,” which is credited to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, also holds that, when the email’s tone is positive, the reader interprets the tone as neutral, as Mike Maslanka previously explained.

So what’s a well-intended email author to do?smiley face icon_2

McDowell suggests an increased use emoticons.  Admittedly, I use a lot of smiley faces in my casual correspondence. I know, I know, it’s not exactly the most lawyerly way to write an email but it does the trick.  When used properly, the winking smiley face can lighten the tone of an otherwise serious-sounding sentence.  But I don’t imagine that I ‘d use a smiley face or even a winking smiley in an email to a new client with whom I don’t already have a rapport or who doesn’t already know smiley-type personality.

Perhaps there’s an app waiting to be developed here-emoticons for the business environment. A little bow-tie wearing smiley face, maybe? Or maybe the smiley face could don a pair of wire-rimmed glasses, thus appearing both smart and friendly.

Until then, I’ll offer my own humble suggestion-not to to senders but to recipients. If you receive an email from a coworker or other person you generally consider to be on your side of the shooting range, and you have a moment of doubt about the tone or intention behind an email you receive, make an effort to start from the assumption that it’s positive or, at the very least, neutral. In other words, be consciously careful to avoid assuming that guy or girl down the hall has suddenly switched sides and is now a covert agent operating for the enemy.

iBooks: Coming to a Courtroom Near You?

Lawyers are notoriously slow to adopt new technology. This is an unfortunate characteristic of my profession. But there are some innovators in the field. And those innovators may be changing the game for the rest of us.

For this Monday morning, I’d like to direct you to one such innovator and how he is putting the latest technology to use. Specifically, the technology being put to use is the iBook. And, now, with Apple’s new iBook Author app, publishing an iBook is about as simple as creating a document using Microsoft Word.

And what do all litigators create with Microsoft Word? Briefs. We write lots of briefs. And what happens when you combine iBooks and legal briefs? Total geek heaven. To see a very geeky-cool example of an iBook brief, check out the post, e-Briefs o the iPad: An Exciting New Tool to Give Attorneys an Edge on Cogent Legal Blog. And then be sure to download the sample brief and view it on your iPad.

I’d love to think that this idea will be the next great trend in litigation but, sadly, I don’t think its time has come. Mainly because we don’t yet have the ability to file this format in the courts’ electronic filing system. But I think the iBook format has tremendous potential as a very accessible way to create compelling content for just about any purpose. How can you put this format to work for your organization?

(H/T to Ted Brooks at Court Technology and Trial Presentation Blog)

The Lesson to Learn From University Dean’s E-mail Snafu

Wesley University’s Dean of Students was one of several academic advisors who received an email from the school’s Director of Advisement. The email identified a list of students who were in danger of failing out of school.  So far, nothing unusual-the Dean of advisors notifies other advisors of students who probably needed some advice. 

Unfortunately, though, the Dean of Students accidentally forwarded the e-mail to unintended recipients.  In fact, she sent the e-mail to the entire student body.  Once the mistake was realized, the school’s IT Department recalled the message.  The school estimates that approximately 12 students opened the message before it was recalled.  Of course, there’s no way to know how many people actually received the e-mail-the 12 students could have forwarded the email to others, who, in turn, could have forwarded it again. 

This story is an unpleasant one but a powerful reminder to the rest of us to use extra care any time we: (1) forward an e-mail; or (2) copy multiple users on any e-mail.

SourceDelaware Online

Judge Tells Lawyer to Follow Guidelines and Start Preparing Better Documents

I continue to be amazed by some of the less-than-best writing practices of my friends and colleagues.  Many of these practices relate to the ways in which they format documents. I recognize that many of these practices derive only from habit–not bad intentions.  But that doesn’t make them any less annoying.  And what makes them more annoying is the irrational devotion they garner. 

What are these habits, you ask?  Truth be told, there are too many to list here.  But there is good news–I am not alone.  There are others who feel strongly about the importance of documents done right. 

Minnesota bankrupcty court judge Robert Kressel is one such sympathizer.  Recently, he issued Order Preparation Guidelines for attorneys appearing before him.  The Guidelines spell out a variety of writing misdeeds that Judge Kressel wisely abhors. 

I have two thoughts about these Guidelines.  First, they offer terrific advice that everyone should follow.  Second, they demonstrate how helpful style guides can be and make me wish that there were more such guides in place–both in the judicial system and in the workplace.  

All of the guidelines are great, really.  But a few stand out for me.

The first guideline, for example, instructs parties to submit PDFs that have been converted directly from Word or WordPerfect–instead of by scanning printed paper copies.  Amen!  Why in the world anyone thinks it is somehow better to print a document and then hard scan that document to PDF positively escapes me.  Print to PDF, people.  Please, I beg you!  As Judge Kessler points out, it saves tremendously on the size of the PDF.  And it also provides a far better looking final document, as well as a searchable document.  A document that is printed to PDF (as opposed to scanned) can also accept comments made with commenting tools in Acrobat, such as highlighting and adding “sticky notes.”  (See my previous posts on the topic of PDFs for better documents for additional inspiration).

Judge Kessler also reminds lawyers to “limit the use of capital letters to proper names.”  I’ve discussed the “ALL-CAPS disease” before but it bears repeating.  For those of you who have held tight to this habit, please consider resolving to abandon it in the new year.  Words that are typed in all capital letters are very difficult to read.  For an excellent explanation of the phenomenon, see Robin Williams’ highly instructive and enlightening book, The PC Is Not a Typewriter

There are other resources for those who are open minded and ready to make some positive changes to their document-formatting habits.  Ms. Williams’ book is a fantastic place to start.  (The book is closer to a pamphlet than War and Peace and serves as an excellent desk reference.)  The Seventh Circuit has published an excellent and extensive set of guidelines for briefs (pdf).  One of the sources cited in the court’s guidelines is Ruth Anne Robbins’ journal article, Painting With Print (pdf), which is far more detailed and a truly outstanding scholarly work.  Finally, specific to the legal profession but applicable for all professions is Matthew Butterick’s blog, Typography for Lawyers

So, wonderful readers, go forth into the new year with standards set high and paragraph alignment set to Left (please, no more justified paragraphs!).  These are resolutions that, if kept, truly would help make the world a better place, one document at a time.

[Hat tip to the Lawyerist]

 

 

Judges Order Re Writing Mistakes in Court Filings

 

Twitter_922110ea-eff6-419e-a90b-74240d84b8c6

 

Follow me on Twitter . . . @MollyDiBi

Delaware Code Now Available as an iPhone App

Have you ever wanted to carry the entire Delaware code in your pocket? Have there been times you’d wished you’d had Title 19, Delaware’s labor statutes available when you’re not at your computer or near a law library?  Well, if you are the owner of an Apple iPhone, now you can.  The entire Delaware code is now available as an app via the iTunes store for just $19.95.  That’s insanely inexpensive compared to the price of the multi-volume book set you’d have to buy to get the Code in print.  The app gives users access to the full Code in a searchable format, making it easy to find that obscure cite in a flash.

Of course, law firms have been very reluctant to the adaptation of the iPhone, so many lawyers who have iPhones also have to lug around a Blackberry to check their work e-mails.  Still, a Blackberry is substantially less bulky than a couple of shelves worth of hard-bound legal books. Oh, what will technology give us lawyers next?

In case you’re not yet an iPhone user, you can always search the Delaware Code for free online, made available on the State of Delaware’s website.

U.S. Supreme Court Decisions Go Digital

The U.S. Supreme Court has taken another step towards “digital enlightenment.” The Court’s website now includes links to pdf files containing the United States Reports, volumes 502 and later.  The U.S. Reports contain the final and official version of the Court’s decisions, typically three to five volumes per Term. Each volume is between 800 and 1,200 pages long, making each pdf file very large.  Large, but packed with valuable information, including, according the Court’s site:

In addition to all of the opinions issued during a particular period, a volume may contain a roster of Justices and Court officers during that period; an allotment of Justices by Federal Circuit; announcements of Justices’ investitures and retirements; memorial proceedings for deceased Justices; a cumulative table of cases reported; orders in cases decided in summary fashion; reprints of amendments to the Supreme Court’s Rules and the various sets of Federal Rules of Procedure; a topical index; and a statistical table summarizing case activity for the past three Court Terms.

For those who are familiar with Adobe’s Acrobat can create a tremendous resource for themselves by saving these files locally and creating an electronic index for super-quick searches later.  This appears to be yet another mile marker in the road to more easily accessible legal references.