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Lurking in the shadows of your email routine are dangerous features that could jeopardize your law practice. Here are four that trip up even seasoned Microsoft 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:
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.
Just because nearly everyone knows how to send email doesn’t mean they use it well. In my previous post (“Most Dangerous Outlook Features for Lawyers“), I showed you two frequently used Outlook features that trip up even seasoned users: Auto-Complete and Out of Office (aka Automatic Replies).
Blind-copying a client on an outgoing email seems like an efficient way to keep a client or other interested party in the loop on your communications with opposing counsel or others. Outlook keeps the identity of any BCC’d parties secret in your outgoing email (although they’re still retained in the message’s metadata). Sounds safe enough, right?
The problem with BCC, however, isn’t your outgoing email. It’s what happens when a blind-copied recipient hits Reply to All. At that point, one protected recipient’s identity is exposed, and if others on the BCC list do the same, their identities are revealed as well as what they wrote.
I’m not saying it’s always dangerous to use BCC. For instance, if your assistant saves your outgoing emails to a document management system, blind-copying him or her makes that task easier. If you use BCC, though, always consider the impact on client confidentiality should the reply chain get out of your control.
In some cases, you would be better off forwarding the original message to your client (with a slightly altered Subject line to keep it out of the original Outlook conversation view).
Decades after the invention of email, Reply to All still wreaks havoc. And if an email has a particularly long list of recipients, everyone’s inbox can fill up quickly.
Fortunately, this feature can be disabled or at least modified. Here’s how:
Bottom line: Always use email mindfully.
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