There are several areas of legal communication where more traditional forms of correspondence are still the most suitable. These include:
1 To communicate information or send documentation which is confidential.
2 To send documents or communications which require a signature.
3 For personal or sensitive communications. Email has a slightly perfunctory, impersonal feel to it. Therefore, it is not suitable for any communication where a personal touch is required, e.g. messages of congratulation, condolence, and complaint (or a response to a complaint).
4 For job applications. In general, most firms still expect your application to consist of a completed paper form or curriculum vitae together with a covering letter. However, this should be checked on a case-by-case basis, as some firms nowadays are becoming more open to emailed applications.
Typical email addresses look like this: email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
As a rough rule, there are two kinds of email address:
—One which identifies a particular person. In this case, the first part of the email address is usually either the first name or the initials of the person you are contacting, followed by their surname. The second part, which appears immediately after the @ (at) is the name of the ISP or organization, or the abbreviation of it.
—One which identifies a function in an organization. This is typical of larger organizations which are arranged into departments. In this case, the first part of the address identifies a function rather than a person, e.g. enquiries, sales, office. An email sent to such an address will usually then be allocated to a particular person to deal with according to the nature of the email sent.
The last part of the email address includes the domain name suffixes referring to the type of organization, e.g. '.co' for company, '.ac' (academic) for a university, and to the country from which the message was sent, e.g. '.es' for Spain, '.uk' for the United Kingdom.
Other examples of domain name suffixes referring to types of organization include:
.gov government office
.org non-profit-making organization
(e.g. a charity)
.pro profession (e.g. medicine, law)
Note that the names of countries in their main languages often differ significantly from their names in English, and this is sometimes reflected in their domain name suffixes, e.g.:
.de Deutschland (Germany)
.za Zuid Afrika (South Africa)
The header gives essential information about the message. It typically includes the following:
This stands for carbon copies, which means much the same as it does on a letter. Here you insert the email addresses of anyone you want to send copies of the message to.
This stands for blind carbon copies which, as in a letter, you should use if you do not want the main recipient to know who has received copies.
The subject line in an email operates as in a letter or fax. It should consist of a brief description of the matter you are writing about. In emails, the subject line is in fact more important than in a letter or fax. There are two reasons for this:
—When checking emails received on a computer, one may only see the subject line instead of the whole email. Therefore, the subject line must contain such words as will alert the reader to the matter on which you have written to him or her.
Because most people receive many emails a day in the course of their professional life, there is a tendency to delete any emails which look as if they are suspicious, junk, viruses, or unsolicited and unwanted communications. Therefore, a properly worded subject line may save an important email from being deleted in error.
Icons of any attachments will appear here.
note The amount of header information, and the order in which it appears, will vary according to the software being used, so do not worry if the messages you send and receive do not look exactly like the one in the example.
The presentation of the text in an email is often less formal than in a letter. In this first example, the communication is clearly intended for another member of staff within the same firm. Therefore, the informal tone is appropriate. Informal, however, does not mean unprofessional. Do not allow the apparent informality of email to lure you into breaches of confidentiality or into writing communications which would be professionally embarrassing if disclosed to persons other than the intended recipient.
In legal work, as a general rule, all communications with persons outside the firm should be no less formal than in a letter or fax. Always remember that any such communications may potentially form part of evidence presented to a court of law one day.
This is like the signature block in a letter, although it usually includes more details, e.g. the sender's company or private address, and telephone and fax numbers. You can program your email software to add your signature automatically to the end of outgoing messages.