When communicating in the professional world, it is important to keep all your communications, including emails, professional. Whether you are emailing another summer associate or intern, a client, or the most senior attorney at the organization, there are some things to keep in mind.
1) Professional salutations: If you are emailing someone you do not know well, whether it is a senior partner, a colleague, a client, or opposing counsel, always use professional salutations. Male correspondents should be referred to as “Mr. Blank,” while female correspondents should always be addressed as “Ms. Blank.” (Never address women in a professional setting as “Mrs.” or “Miss.” This is considered unprofessional and is presumptuous.) As in a business letter, your salutation should begin “Dear Ms. Blank:” and then continue with the body of the email, starting on a separate line. If the person responding to you signs off on their email with their first name, it is now okay to reply to them using that name. Do not presume to shorten their name: if they reply with “Rebecca,” do not address them as “Becky”.
2) Proofread: Check your email over carefully before sending. Because email is less formal than a hard-copy letter, it is easy to write quickly and not proofread carefully. Spelling and grammar still count.
3) Length: Make sure the email is not too long. If you cannot say what you need to in three short paragraphs, consider a memo or a face-to-face meeting, unless someone has specifically requested the information be provided in an email.
4) Humor: Email humor is famous for getting people in hot water. Sometimes the recipient may not realize (because there are no social cues) that the writer intends to be funny, or the recipient may find the type of humor offensive or inappropriate.
5) Signing off: You should conclude each email so that the recipient knows exactly whom the email is from. An email address may not be clear if, for instance, as do many company emails, it only includes part of your name (“email@example.com”) or you have an ambiguous email address (“firstname.lastname@example.org”). You also should sign your emails so that the reader knows they have received the entirety of what you meant to communicate, and did not accidentally hit “send” before completing the communication. If the person knows you, use your first name: “Best, Margaret.” If you are writing to someone who does not know who you are, use your entire name: “Sincerely, Jason Green.” As far as what sign-off to use: experts recommend using “Best,” “Sincerely,” “Thanks” (especially when your email is a request), or “Regards.” Do not use clever or cutesy sign-offs such as “Peace Out” or “Ciao” except in informal emails.
6) Signatures: Use professional signatures including your full name and any title that you may hold. If your title is school related, include your expected graduation year: “Margaret Jones, Manuscripts Editor, Richmond Law Review, University of Richmond School of Law, Candidate for JD, 2016.” If it is related to your employment, use your title and the name of your employer: “Jason Green, Summer Law Clerk, Smythe & Browne, PLC”. (Note: some employers may supply you with an email signature that may also include confidentiality notices or legal disclaimers). You may have more than one signature depending on the purpose of your email. For instance, use your law review signature when communicating about law review, or to members of the law school community; use your summer associate signature when writing to a client, partner, or opposing counsel. Do not include inspirational quotes or cute images.
7) Correcting a Mistake: If all else fails and you realize you pressed “send” before you were ready, or without giving full consideration to the effect of your email, click here for some suggested saves.