Monday, March 29, 2010

Watch those e-mails

E-mail is easy. Too easy. Richard Kelson, Esq., Babst, Calland, Clements & Zomnir P.C., Pittsburgh, says careless or casual e-mails can open companies up to problems if a legal dispute arises. Kelson spoke March 29 during the last day of the BEC Conference at Paris Las Vegas, hosted by the Glass Association of North America, Topeka, Kan.

Kelson emphasized to the audience of glaziers and suppliers the importance of watching what you say, and thinking before you speak. E-mail has shifted the way business is done, and the easy and often informal nature of e-mails can be dangerous for companies.

“Earlier in my career, my construction cases would have 100 exhibits. People would write one letter a week, if it was important. Today, I see 1,500 exhibits because of e-mails,” Kelson said. “E-mails are speaking without thinking. E-mails are too friendly to people who are not friends. E-mails are filled with bravado. … E-mails are coming from people who don’t have authority to speak for a company, and they are sent off without anyone reviewing them.”

Technology has made it possible for council to discover e-mails that were written but never sent. Mirror drives and back-up servers can house anything that has been drafted on the computer, even it if was never saved.

“I used to tell people to follow the 24-hour rule—to sit on an e-mail for 24 hours before sending,” Kelson said. “That rule won’t protect you now. Before you type an e-mail, write it out on paper, by hand.”

Kelson added that people should never send e-mails when “you’re overtired, emotional or upset.” Any e-mail sent after midnight can wait until the morning. “Don’t make a case for the other side by e-mailing after midnight,” he said.

The reply all, copy and blind copy functions in e-mail can lead to “devastating” unintended consequences if an e-mail is inadvertently sent to the wrong parties. “E-mails can end up in the wrong hands. … Always check and consider recipients before sending,” Kelson said. He also emphasized that no one should ever be copied on an e-mail to council. “This waives privilege.”

To prevent e-mail problems, and add legal protection, Kelson said managers need to train staff on writing e-mails. "If you can't train your staff to write e-mails the right way, then get a new staff."

--By Katy Devlin, associate editor

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