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Email Management, Part 1

Most Dangerous Outlook Features for Lawyers

By Deborah Savadra

Of all the Microsoft Office applications in law offices, Outlook is hands-down the most frequently used. After all, who doesn’t need to handle email every day? But lurking in the shadows of your email routine are dangerous Outlook features that could jeopardize your law practice.

Here are two that trip up even seasoned Outlook users.


You probably use the Auto-Complete feature every day, and take it totally for granted. The moment you put your cursor in the To: field of an email and start typing, Outlook tries to predict the email address you want. It’s been tracking your email habits and building a list of names and addresses from the messages you send. So, the moment you type “b” in the To: field, it suggests several past addressees whose names begin with “b.”

But with an inadvertent slip of the mouse, that email you think you’re sending to law partner Barbara could instead be going to opposing counsel Barry. And if the message contains sensitive information about a client, you’ve just breached confidentiality.

To be 100 percent safe, you’ll want to disable Auto-Complete altogether. But if you’re too addicted to its convenience to ditch it, be sure you do these things:

  1. Pause to examine the list of choices you’re presented with when you start typing, then pause again after you’ve chosen an addressee from the list. A little mindfulness here could save a lot of embarrassment.
  2. Delete email addresses that you don’t need (or want) from Auto-Complete’s list of suggestions. Hover your mouse to the right of any address in the list that you want to delete from future choices and click the X on the right. (More detailed instructions can be found here.)

Out of Office

You’re getting ready to leave the office on vacation or for an out-of-town continuing education program. Did you give your assistant your itinerary? Check. Turn on your alternate voice-mail greeting? Check. Turn on Outlook’s Out of Office (aka Automatic Replies) feature? Check.

Before you go, double-check that Out of Office auto-reply. Do you really want to advertise to the world that your home is unoccupied, or which hotel you’re staying in?

You want your Out of Office message to reach the people you regularly do business with and give them only the information they need. So limit the reach of Outlook’s auto-replies to those inside your office and, if necessary, to outside recipients who are already in your Contacts list.

Inside the Automatic Replies dialog box (accessible to networked Outlook users from the File tab under Info in Outlook versions 2010 and 2013, or from the Tools menu in version 2007), you’ll notice two tabs: Inside My Organization and Outside My Organization. Inside My Organization covers those who are on the same Exchange Server as you. This tab lets you send a detailed message to co-workers about how to reach you even when your assistant isn’t available.

The Outside My Organization tab covers everyone else, and here’s where you can write a more limited message to go to clients and others. But you needn’t set it to send a response to everyone who emails you. Instead, check the box next to Auto-reply to people outside my organization, then click the radio button next to My Contacts only. This limits auto-replies to only those whom you’ve added to your Contacts list in Outlook.

Also, don’t forget to take advantage of Out of Office’s ability to turn itself off when you’re back in the office. After you click “Send Automatic Replies” in the top half of the dialog box, check the box “Only send during this time range,” then put in a start date and end date and time.

In my next post, I’ll show you two more Outlook features that are misused often, sometimes accidentally breaching attorney-client privilege.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Deborah Savadra Legal Office Guru Deborah Savadra

Deborah Savadra spends a lot of her time explaining technology to lawyers, mostly as editor and chief blogger at Legal Office Guru, which features Microsoft Office video tutorials and other content especially for legal professionals. Watch her quick tips videos here, and follow her on Twitter @legalofficeguru.

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