By Professor Herb Ramy
Director, Academic Support Program, Suffolk University Law School
Treat emails like any other form of professional communication. You must strive for the highest degree of formality when e-mailing anyone in a professional situation. A professional context includes e-mails to professors, potential employers or their staff, colleagues (including your classmates), and existing or potential clients. More specifically, you should:
(1) Use the subject line in your e-mail as opposed to leaving it blank. If the recipient fails to recognize your name, a subjectless e-mail may be treated like an unwanted solicitation. At home, unwanted solicitations end up on the trash, which is where your e-mail might end up.
(2) Address the e-mail to your intended recipient as opposed to jumping into your topic. For example, my students should begin their e-mails to me with “Professor Ramy.” The inclusion of my name in the body of the e-mail is not only more professional, but allows the recipient to confirm that the correspondence is not part of a mass e-mail solicitation.
(3) Spend a few moments explaining any relevant background that might make your correspondence easier to understand.
(4) Identify yourself by name. Do not assume that the e-mail recipient will know who you are based solely on your question. In addition, the answer to your question may be different based on who you are.
(5) Remember that you are writing an email, not a text message. Treat emails like business letters and avoid, shorthand phrases or acronyms that may be appropriate when communicating informally
(6) Proofread your email to avoid making a bad first impression.
(7) Never send an email when you are angry. The real problem here is the immediacy of email coupled with its remoteness. Emails let you vent your anger before you have a chance to calm down and look at the situation more dispassionately. In addition, the remote nature of e-mail communication also promotes poor etiquette. Many of us will “say” things in an e-mail that we would never say face to face or over the telephone.
(8) When requesting a meeting, provide your professor with dates and times when you are available. Your professors won’t necessarily be aware of your specific schedule, and providing them with an option like “I’m available to meet whenever” is both unhelpful and inaccurate.
(9) Allow the e-mail to demonstrate how much work you have already done. Law students and new lawyers ask a lot of questions, and this is only natural. If improperly formulated, however, questions may suggest that you have done little independent work. For example, do not email your professor for an explanation of subject matter jurisdiction without noting the sources you have already consulted or providing a precise explanation of which aspects of the rule are giving you the most difficulty. In addition to portraying you in a more positive light, the additional information will help the e-mail recipient provide you with a more focused response to your inquiry.