Email Triage

In my post on emailing vs. phone calls, which laid out some advantages of communicating by email, I didn’t address one thing that many people hate about email, which is that it can at times seem impossible to keep up with the volume of incoming messages.  Unfortunately from an attorney’s perspective, if you miss a deadline because you lose track of an email, it won’t fly to complain to your client that you get 500 (or whatever) emails a day.  Regardless of whether law school lasts for three years or two, as President Obama would have it, there is little to no attention paid there to such mundane issues as email management, though this ends up being crucial to being a reliable attorney, which is a prerequisite to being a successful attorney.

Email Triage: Keeping Up with the Volume of Incoming MessagesThere is no shortage of available advice for lawyers and non-lawyers alike on how to keep up with the deluge, and you have to pick something that works for you, but I can tell you about my system, which works for me.  For incoming emails, after the email arrives in your inbox, perform triage on it and remove it from the inbox in one of the following ways:

  • Reply to it, if that can be done in short order, and file it away in a folder/collection for the particular client;
  • Just file it, if it doesn’t require a reply or further action;
  • Delete it (for non-work/junk); or
  • If it will take some time to reply or if you want to deal with it later, note this on your to do list (or whatever method you use to handle tasks), and file the email away.

The other side of the equation is your outgoing emails.  When you send one to a client, another attorney, etc., and you’re expecting a response from that person, you may not get that response in a timely manner.  (Though I fully expect that everyone in the world will read this post and implement my system, rendering the issue moot.)  When I send emails requiring a response, I flag them for follow-up, and then once a day, I scroll through the flagged emails to see whether I’ve heard back and, if not, whether it’s an appropriate time to ping the other person.