Why You Should Remove E-mail From Your Processes

I’m sure the title of this article has some readers scratching their heads. Remove e-mail? I just started using it – it’s the wave of the future – I work with clients by e-mail all the time – My clients wouldn’t hire me if I don’t use e-mail.

I’ve heard it all and I still say every business should remove e-mail from their processes where they can. Here’s three good reasons:

1. Security Issues

I cannot stress this one enough. Any information you send in the content or as an attachment to an e-mail can be intercepted, reviewed and altered by the owner of the electronic equipment it touches – you know the wires, routers and switches that physically make up the Web. (Everyone forgets that the Web has a physical component.)

Is it LIKELY that someone is intercepting your communications? No. Is it possible? Absolutely! That’s why you don’t use e-mail to transmit things like credit card information, let alone attorney work product.

For attorneys, it’s not just that confidential information can be intercepted. There are other hazards as noted by legal blogger Brian Ritchey, Esq. of www.MorePartnerIncome.net. On February 1st he published: Unencrypted E-mails Between Attorneys and Clients May Not Be Privileged. Along with the comments thereto, this is the best discussion I have seen amongst attorneys on the subject of security and e-mail.

2. Administration Woes

Business owners are required to save and store their business e-mails in the same manner as they do other business records. Over time, the data storage needs increase and the larger the business, the larger that cost in terms of actual server space plus the time that one pays (or puts in) to verify that the data is being saved, backed up, archived, etc.

Along with the storage aspect of e-mail, it is also difficult to keep an accurate client file. Although most firms wish to be paperless, the reality is, law is a paper intensive industry and will likely continue as such for many years to come (if not indefinitely).

Typically, e-mails are stored on a different network/PC drive/folder than client specific folders that store other records for that client. For instance, if you use Outlook, everything is stored in Outlook’s .pst file. So how do you get a copy of e-mail messages into a client’s electronic and paper files?

I run across the same solution all the time in law firms — employees are required to print out each incoming and outgoing e-mail message to be placed within the physical file. Old fashioned? Certainly – but it works! The best configuration is to have employees print each incoming or outgoing e-mail to .pdf and save that .pdf to the client’s electronic folder. Then print out a copy of the .pdf for the physical file. This way the client’s electronic file and physical file are always in sync.

3. The Ooops! Factor

Security does not just mean that the e-mail messages your business creates are only read by the intended recipient. A recent Law.com article (http://tinyurl.com/3w48kt) reported on how a law firm inadvertently sent an e-mail to a reporter instead of to their client. That e-mail, of course, contained sensitive and confidential information. This is what I call the built in Ooops! Factor for e-mail. It is really just too easy to dash off an e-mail and hit send.

How many times do you check and recheck the e-mail address before hitting “send”? I check once when I’m drafting and it’s the last thing I do before clicking on the send button. I don’t just “look” at the address the second time. I literally read it out loud then click Send (a good practice to get into, IHMO).

Even doing this, I have done other stupid e-mail faux pas – like using the “Reply All” button to send a private communication to a whole list, instead of one member on that list. Thank goodness that’s only embarrassing and not fodder for a law suit!

I understand that e-mail will be a part of how business is done for a very long time. However, it should be used judiciously and not everything should be accomplished through it. More and more services are setting up their processes to deliver whatever they “do” via e-mail. Try to avoid this – especially for large volumes of files.

So, what are your options? As with anything techy – that varies depending on your existing equipment, processes, software and tech comfort level.

In a 100% web based service, such as efaxing, one thing to look for would be the ability to log into a secure web based account to access your files rather than receive them via e-mail. All efaxing services are different but many of them do offer this type of set up. Add on notification via text (to your cell phone) and you’re always in the know when a fax or file is received. The service I recommend to manage all the incoming (calls, voicemails and faxes) is Onebox.

Another option to sending files via e-mail is using a third party service such as SendThisF

ile or YouSendIt. Users load files to their server, which automatically sends out a notification e-mail to the intended recipient. In that notification is a link to access and download the file directly. One small covering e-mail and the whole process is secure. Not too shabby for less than $10 per month! 😉

Along with file transfer services, you can create a private page on your domain. If you’re not webby, 37 Signals has a product call BackPackIt which gives up to 100 independent (and secure) pages for the loading of everything from pictures to documents, etc. It’s a great collaboration tool for those who don’t have a website or those who don’t wish to administer the process necessary to set up a folder on a domain, issue password, etc. In literally less than a minute, anyone can easily set up a page and send out the notification e-mail to those they wish to grant access.

In the end, the more you can remove e-mail from your day to day processes, the better off you will be.