The Right And Wrong Way to Approach Law Firm Email Management

law firm email management

Law Firm Email Management 101

When it comes to managing email, many businesses need nothing more than simple software tools. A basic email client (such as Outlook or Gmail) is often all that’s necessary to manage email for many types of organizations. But not law firms. Law firms need more than (simply) the ability to send, read and store emails. Most law firms need more sophisticated email management than basic email software provides. Many law firms need more robust email management tools.

In today’s day and age, email is vital to a law firm. Think of how much email plays a part in managing a case and a law practice.

  • Clients sign and email documents to you.
  • Clients share other important information with you by email.
  • Contracts are negotiated via email.
  • Motions are sent and received by email.
  • Time-sensitive documents and information are sent by email.
  • Invoices are sent via email.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Every law firm, large or small, needs a system in place to store, share, manage and organize all of the email data that accumulates every day.

Let’s take a look at the wrong way to manage email as a law firm (and the way you might be doing it right now), and the right way to approach law firm email management.

Law Firm Email Management – The Wrong Way

The wrong way to approach law firm email management is probably the default way for any law firm: Simply having each person in your firm “manage” email in Outlook.

law firm email management

That is: You get a new client or start a new case, and begin to send and receive emails pertaining to this matter. So naturally, you create an Outlook folder for this case or client.

And maybe your law partner is also working this matter with you, so she creates a similar folder, in her own Outlook.

And perhaps your paralegal is also doing some work on this case, so he also creates a folder for this matter in his Outlook.

The problem: All emails associated with this case are now decentralized, spread across three (or more) people’s email software. And nobody can see the emails that the others have saved for this case.

What’s more: Email messages are likely duplicated between staff.

Its disjointed, messy and a surefire way to miss something important and frustrate your team.

To make matters worse, this new case will likely have several (or many) document associated to it. Maybe you store matter-related documents on your file server (the S: drive), or maybe you store it in OneDrive or in your Practice Management software.

And perhaps you’ve taken notes or stored other miscellaneous info for this matter elsewhere (like OneNote, or on your trusty legal pad).

Now, your already decentralized email is in a completely separate system from the documents and notes for this matter.

It’s a mess.

Law Firm Email Management – The Right Way

So what’s the correct way to manage email as a law firm?

With a single, centralized system.

One platform where everyone in your firm can (and does) save every matter-related email to the relevant case. A system that is centrally stored, so everyone in your firm who needs to can store, share and review emails for any particular matter.

There are any number of software platforms that could do this. But because the needs of law firm email management are unique, I recommend implementing a solution that has the following capabilities.

1. Centralized. It’s worth repeating: Your law firm email management system should be a central system that everyone in your firm can access.

2. Multi-Purpose. You could, in theory, setup Exchange Public Folders so that you have a set of Outlook folders that everyone in your firm can share. But it sure is nice to have fewer systems and places to put things (not more). For that reason, its best to manage your emails within your firm’s Practice Management or Document Management software.

3. Cloud-based. For law firms, life is better in the cloud. Whatever your firm ultimately implements for law firm email management (be it practice management software, dedicated document and email management software, or something else entirely), I highly recommend finding something cloud-based. With a cloud-based solution you won’t have to deal with servers, IT problems or storage requirements. You’ll be able to access your law firm email management anytime, anywhere. And you won’t have to deal with updating and maintaining your software.

Related: Legal Document and Email Management in the Cloud.

4. Outlook Integration. Finally, whatever your law firm chooses, I highly recommend it has Outlook integration. With the right software, this will allow you to save one (or many) email messages to a matter right from Outlook.

I Want This for My Firm

After all: Chances are your team is already used to dragging and dropping emails to a folder in Outlook, so dragging them to a matter in your new, Outlook-integrated law firm email management system will be natural.

Implementing law firm email management the right way brings a number of benefits to your practice:

  • All important email messages will be organized in a matter-centric fashion.
  • Everyone in your firm (that needs to) will have access to all matter-related emails.
  • You’ll avoid email duplication.
  • Matter-related emails will be organized with documents, notes and other information for that matter.

I Want This for My Firm

Email Archive

For an extra layer of law firm email management, you may also want to consider Email Archive.

Email Archive is a system that stores a copy of every email ever sent or received to or from anyone in your law firm.

Suppose you’re not great about remembering to save or file every important email. Or suppose a rogue employee intentionally deletes an important email. Email Archive will, essentially, make a carbon copy of every email that comes into or is sent from your law firm, and saves each copy in a separate, searchable database.

Imagine having a complete copy of every message ever sent or received (by anyone in your firm) in a completely independent database. And imagine the ability to search that database, and find anything that anyone in your firm may have sent (or received). Email Archive can be a great way to safeguard intellectual property and assure regulatory compliance.

Email Archive can be subscribed to as a stand-alone email service (provided by a third-party) or available as an add-on to an existing Exchange email service, depending on your email/Exchange provider.

Take-Aways

There you have it – the right and the wrong way to approach law firm email management. Key things to keep in mind:

  • Avoid using Outlook (only) to store matter related emails. It’s decentralized and inefficient.
  • Implement practice management or document/email management software to keep your matter-related emails accessible and organized.
  • Where possible, implement a multi-purpose system: one that can store and manage email as well as documents, notes and other types of content.
  • Avoid premise-based software that require onsite servers (and come with IT headaches). Leverage the cloud by finding a cloud-based email management solution.
  • Find a solution that integrates with the tools you already use; namely: Microsoft Outlook.

Good luck!