WE ADVOCATES have been educated in the subject of Law. We have been taught various Statutes. But unfortunately we have missed out many things which are necessary to be a successful lawyer. One of such things is the art of excelling in the means of communication. Most advocates use Email to communicate and also apps like whatsapp and telegram. Yet certain aspects of email etiquette for lawyers are often overlooked. Emails to clients are considered legal documents and can be binding contracts. They are an impression of professionalism of your law firm and yourself as a practicing professional. If you want your email to have effects, for better communication, and to stay organized you have to follow certain rules and regulations.
1. EMAIL ID – The purpose of email id and domain with domain extension serves the purpose of identity. So be careful in selecting your domain name, domain extension and also email id. The email id must communicate everything. Emails like siddharthmu2 Jgmai1.com or meet nsiddharthinurarka.corn do not reflect the profession and professionalism. Now what if email is firstname.lastname@example.org. It gives a clear message that the name of the person or the name of the firm is Siddharth Murarka, a lawyer and contact reflects that it is the common email id for office use and not dedicated to one associate. So you are sure it reaches the office and thereafter directed to the right person. If email is email@example.com, it clearly makes it is payal from the said organisation. This gives professional impact.
2. SUBJECT – Always include an appropriate and succinct subject. Your subject should ensure that the recipient of the email becomes aware of the possible contents of the email, the crux or purpose of the communication. Commonly lawyers use generic terms like ‘matter between X and Y’ or in alternate just ‘notice’. This is not sufficient. The subject of your Email should have clarity about the contents. For eg if you are sending a legal notice on behalf of client X, to Y, and matter is related to cheque bouncing then the subject should mention ‘Notice u/s. 138 of N.I. Act on behalf of X’ addressed to Y on email. This ensures that person Y knows that notice is on behalf of X and that he has hired the services of an advocate for cheque bouncing.
3. CAPSLOCK – Don’t capitalize all your letters, no matter how urgent your email is, as you will look aggressive — it’s like SHOUTING OVER EMAIL. So the email should be normal with a combination of capitalisation wherever there is a need for emphasis.
4. NUMBERING – While communicating officially, always ensure that you number your paragraphs. This will in return ensure a point wise reply from the recipient of your Email.
5. REFERENCE – Whenever you are replying to an email and have to refer to an earlier correspondence, mention the details of the earlier correspondence. For eg. if you have issued a legal notice under N.I. Act and have received a reply on a particular date, and want to send a rejoinder, ensure that after the subject you give all details of previous communication such as reference our Notice No. xxxx r/w. your reply dated xxxx. This should be in bold to get highlighted as soon as one starts reading the email. This ensures continuity and progression in the matter.
6. TIME TO SEND EMAIL – We always tend to forget that while we send emails it is necessary that we also see the time when we are sending the emails. Generally we are used to sending all notices, letters, drafts and email service of letters at any time of the day, or sometimes even past midnight. A lawyer might be working after office hours, or late night,and once he finishes his work he ensures that he sends the email at that very moment. This is not appropriate. Worldwide, in many countries, people do not appreciate receiving emails after office hours. In Fact there is no need to receive or send notices after office hours unless there is an emergency. No one likes to have that email reaching them on a holiday when they are with the family or enjoying their leisure time. The appropriate system should be that all emails drafted should be sent, or served at 9 a.m. in the morning. So the best thing is to finish work and set time for the email to be sent and that is very much provided by almost all email service providers. You must program it to ensure it is released and reaches at the right time and that too on a working day. The reason being that moment the recipient starts his working day he receives your email. Imagine you receiving all your emails early in the morning between 9 – 9.30 a.m., and you being able to deal with them during the course of the day, including assigning work etc. So expect replies also within an hour and develop the habit to reply by 10.00 am or so or program it to the next working day at 9.00 am, unless it is very urgent. This shall ensure continuity, progression without disturbance of time planning of any organisation.
7. SALUTATION – One more aspect seen is that some lawyers address recipients of notice as ‘Dear Sir/Madam’. The term ‘Dear’ should never be used casually for every person. As a lawyer, if you are sending a notice to a person, you are representing a cause against that person. How can that person be ‘dear’ to you? It may feel to the client who is marked copy (usually it is advisable to mark the client the copy and keep the client updated) that you are inviting the addressed to be your client and that would make your client uncomfortable and doubt your integrity. If the person is held in high regard or holds an important position he or she is addressed as ‘respected’ like your emails to senior officers of Court or the Bar Association Officer bearers, but not when you are representing your client’s cause or grievance against the person who is addressed he email. The correct salutation must be ‘Sir or Madam”. If there are more than one addresses then the Sir with an ‘s’ in bracket i.e. Sir(s) or Madam(s) or a combination thereof, as the case maybe.
8. VALEDICTION – To sign off an official email or notice common terms used are faithfully, sincerely, truly or sometimes regards. However, you are representing your client and not the other party. How can you be too cordial or friendly to the person whom you are serving a legal notice. You cannot be sincere, faithful, truly or convey your regards to the person against whom you represent your client. Hence, the appropriate system should be to sign off without any valediction at all.
9. CONCISE NOTICE – While communicating a notice, via E-mail or otherwise, you have to ensure that not only your words speak, but also your presentation speaks for itself. Be very precise, and concise at the same time. There is no need to build up the entire history of the matter in the notice itself. The purpose of the notice is to highlight the cause for which the notice is issued, and give notice of what is desired from the other party. For eg In a cheque bouncing notice, there is no need to elaborate the entire transaction and how your client was introduced to the other side, what was orally stated or what was the entire past history of dealings and how long has the relations been there between your client and other side. It should be concise that in discharge of the liability a particular cheque or cheques were issued. The cheques were presented in time as per section 138(a) of N.I. Act. The details of cheque(s), the bank return memo, the claim of client and legal recourse precisely and briefly. Ensure that the notice is maximum 2 or 3 pages, precise and to the point. This in return ensures that you do not provide any room to the other party to pinpoint loop holes in your case. There should be only the details of brief facts of the case and demand or claim as per law.
To sum up everything requires efforts and practice to give one a true professional identity over a period of time. The lawyers have to make efforts to update their skills as presentation makes a difference and the first impression can be the last impression.
*Advocate Payal Chauhan, Associate Advocate at LAW CHAMBER OF SIDDHARTH MURARKA,
Advocates on Record, Supreme Court of India