Email Woes

June 29, 2018

This post is part of our ongoing series exploring the impact of technology on legal issues. For an introduction to the series and a collection of the posts in the series, check out this post.

By now, everyone should be mindful of the dreaded “Reply All” feature (for the uninitiated: When is it appropriate to reply all? Mostly never). I have to agree, although “mostly never” might even be too often.

On a related note, did you ever accidentally hit “Send” before you’re ready? Me too. But I’ve adopted a new trick that might help you as well. When drafting a new email, the last information I add to the email are the recipients. That way, I’m paying particular attention to the autofill feature and making sure I’m ready to send and have the right people.

While sending email to unintended recipients remains a common problem, here are two more nuanced legal issues to consider relating to email:

Work vs. Personal Email Accounts

Many people use just one email account for convenience. Many times it’s a work email address. As an employee, assume that you have no expectation of privacy in your work email account and activities on work devices and networks and your activities are being monitored. Further, by accessing personal accounts, you may violate one or more of the employer’s policies relating to acceptable use of electronic devices and networks.

Most legal issues have some degree of sensitivity. You may not want your employer (or others within the organization that may have access to your email account) to know about the issue. For example, your employer may be the adverse party and confidential communications between you and your attorney may be compromised by the employer’s monitoring systems.

To avoid these issues, the best practice is to maintain a separate, personal email address. Employees should also refrain from accessing their personal email account on employer-provided devices to avoid inadvertent disclosure of sensitive or confidential information.

Access to Email Accounts

Another common practice for personal email accounts is to use a shared or family email address. Even if the email address isn’t shared, are you logged into that email account on multiple devices which may be used by others in your family, such as a family iPad or computer?

Again, depending on the issue, you may not want others that use a shared account or device to know about the specifics of a legal issue you discuss via email with your attorney. Further, you may be unintentionally waiving the attorney-client privilege by allowing access by a third party to the communications. You can also lose attorney-client privilege by forwarding a privileged email to a third party, so be mindful of sharing privileged emails.

To combat this problem, personal (not shared) email accounts should be used for all attorney-client communications. On shared devices, secure your email accounts. Consider either logging out of the account regularly, or using a password, passcode or biometric verification within the email application itself to secure it.

Matt Landis is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University Commonwealth School of Law and works regularly with business owners and entrepreneurs.