In the past few months, I have received a number of requests to step in to remind users of the section listservs of the Rules for using the Email Lists. (Yes, there are Rules.)
Most of the 28 MSBA Sections have Email Lists that include all (or almost all) of the Section members. Members may “opt out” at any time. They may also rejoin at any time, as long as they are Section members. The MSBA provides these Email Lists as a benefit to its members. The purpose of the Email Lists is to facilitate communication between members of the various committees and sections. The Email Lists are to be used only for the discussion of MSBA-related issues or other legal-related discussions. This allows members who are subscribed to the list the opportunity to type in one address and send the message/question to everyone on the list. In order to get the best results from using these lists, there are some rules that you need to understand and use. The lists have been valuable to many Sections and there have been few problems. Like any group, electronic or otherwise, each list has its own “personality”.
The rules are listed on the web and I will address some of those but I wanted to figure out what the problems might be for some of the lists. Although I am on each and every Email List, I do not read nearly as many of the messages as most members think. However, I do get messages from members asking me to review some posts. As I have watched these posts for many years, I have noticed some interesting changes on how various generations of members use and respond to the lists.
There is nothing scientific about my views. They are simply brief observations, but I have been watching these lists, since the beginning. Also, there is no right and wrong way to use the lists but there are some suggestions I am going to give to help making the use of the list more useful and friendly.
One of the posts that will cause the most vitriolic response is when someone asks a question that someone on the list thinks is either stupid (my word) or lazy.
As I indicated, none of this is scientific, but I have noticed that those newer (i.e younger) lawyers use the Email Lists as “mentors.” Newer lawyers, especially those who may not have the luxury of a flesh and blood mentor, post a question to lists as if those on the lists were their mentors. This is not necessarily a wrong way to use the list. These newer lawyers are used to posting questions and comments using online networks. Many of these newer lawyers do not have the luxury of being in a firm where there are mentors who can answer many of these questions.
For those who are more experienced, these questions may seem as though the questioner has not done his or her research. It is not so much that the question is “stupid” but rather the questioner is taking the easy (i.e., lazy) way out by not doing his or her research. As a result, there are a lot of prickly responses, which then take on a life of their own with new lawyers complaining that they are only looking for some help and experienced members saying the newer lawyers need to do more research.
Both are correct, and both need to make some adjustments if these lists are to remain valuable. Experienced lawyers never had the opportunity to use these types of electronic communications. They either were fortunate to be in a firm and had someone willing to mentor you, or you figured it out on your own by doing your own research (in the library) or asking other practitioners by actually speaking to them.
Newer and younger members are accustomed to having immediate electronic access to unlimited information and connections. Got a question, send a message. It is not a lack of diligence but just a habit. It is the convergence of these two different methods of gaining experience and answers where there seems to be some difference of opinions about how the listservs should be used.
So, here is my suggestion: for the more experienced practitioners, when someone who may (or may not) be a newer practitioner asks a question that you think is too simple or that the questioner should have done more research, send a message to the person directly and not to the list. Nothing is served by being rude. The goal is to give all section members the opportunity to have a place to ask questions and get respectful answers. Always remember that you were a new lawyer once.
For newer lawyers, while we want you to feel comfortable to ask questions in a respectful forum, you should do some of your own research before posting a question. The lists are not a substitute for your own research. And, while rudeness is never acceptable, if someone responds in a less than encouraging way, just shake it off and move on.
Having said all of this, there are some specific rules, some of which are listed with more detail on the website. The rules listed below are only a few that will help every Bar member communicate more efficiently, kindly, and courteously in virtual reality.
Some of the Rules
- Anti-Trust Issues. Do not post queries or information and refrain from any discussion that may provide the basis for an inference that the members agreed to take action relating to prices, production, allocation of markets, or any other matter having a market effect. Examples of topics that should not be discussed include current or future billing rates, fees, disbursement charges, or other items that would be construed as “price”, fair profit, billing rate, or wage level, current billing or fee procedures, and imposition of credit terms. Do not post regarding refusal to deal with anyone because of his or her pricing or fees.
- Sending Messages to the Lists. Always use a descriptive subject line. Do not send a message with a blank subject line.
If a subject starts to go off the topic, those replying should indicate that in the subject header. This will allow others to delete messages off topic. It may look like “Subject: Expert Witness – Off Topic”. This indicates the subject matter is no longer Expert Witnesses. It is even better to change the Subject Line to better reflect the topic that is being discussed. This only takes a minute and saves much aggravation for other members on the list.
Do not forward jokes or any other message because you have no idea where it will eventually be received. The Internet allows for very easy forwarding and sending of information. If you would not send out the jokes or messages on your firm’s letterhead then do not forward it. Do not send anything via e-mail you do not want seen in public. This should be a rule that you never break. Never.
Keep in mind that not everyone on the list is at the same professional level as you. There may be new attorneys looking for some assistance from experienced practitioners; that is one of the advantages of the list. If you can help with an answer, please do so. If you feel that the question is inappropriate, please respond to the person personally or even contact me.
- Netiquette. The lists are not a substitute for your own research and work. No one should be asking questions that can be easily answered by simple research. You should always do some research before posting a question.
Sarcasm and humor can often be lost in writing. What you meant as being a joke or humorous in person is completely lost in e-mail. If you are concerned that something might be misunderstood, do not send it.
Please do not scold or chastise anyone on the list publicly. If you feel that a post was inappropriate, please e-mail the person privately. You may also contact me, and I will contact the person.
- When Replying to Lists. When you participate in an Email List, it is not always necessary to send a reply to the entire list. For most MSBA lists, the REPLY TO default is the author of the original message. If you hit REPLY TO, it will only go to the person who sent the message. If you think the reply is helpful and would be useful to the entire list, you must hit REPLY TO ALL.
Do not send a reply that just says “Me, too” or some other short response. Too many Email Lists are clogged by hundreds of “Me, too”s.
Keep messages short and to the point. If you are going to post a long reply or, in some cases, a long rant, please indicate that in the subject header. For example, “Subject: Expert Witnesses – Long Reply”.
- Attachments. The list does not accept attachments. If you wish to send an attachment to an individual member of the list, you may do so, but not to the list. Also, you should first get permission from a member of the list to send an attachment.
- Promotion/Solicitation. The MSBA reserves the right to restrict promotion of products, services, and programs not specifically endorsed by the MSBA. Only MSBA staff are authorized to post information about various MSBA programs, services, and activities.
In accordance with common email list courtesy, you may not send non-State Bar “commercial” and/or self-promotional postings to the list. The Email List is not intended to provide a forum for the promotion or advocacy of the beliefs of any other organization. Solicitations and endorsements for political candidates or requests for fundraising contributions are likewise out of order.
- Virus Scanning. Viruses are destructive, both in terms of the damage they can do to computers and in terms of lost billable time trying to get one’s computer back up and running. For this reason, participants of Email Lists have an extra responsibility to their fellow attorneys to employ a virus-detection package and to regularly update the virus definitions so it continues to provide adequate protection.
If you discover you have a virus on your computer, you should immediately contact Lawrence Hicks by telephone at (800) 492-1964, ext. 3010, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask him to post a warning not to open any e-mails with attachments sent under your name.
- Managing the Messages. Some complain and prefer not to participate on lists because of the large number of messages. I believe that is shortsighted. I think the value of the lists far outweighs any inconvenience. However, there are some ways that you can manage the messages so that they are not an intrusion.
The easiest way to manage messages from lists and other “non-critical” client-related messages is to set up folders for your Email Lists or other topics and have the messages sent directly (filtered) to those folders so they do not clutter your inbox. You can then read them when you choose. Messages can be filtered to go into any folder – even the Deleted folder. You can filter messages based upon the sender or any other criteria.
Outlook and most other e-mail packages allow you to set up folders. You can set up folders in Outlook by going to File>New>Folder and then give it a name. You can even create sub-folders. You can then set up folders for your Email Lists and have those messages sent directly to those folders.
We think these lists are extremely valuable but never perfect. Many of the lists have hundreds of section members with different backgrounds, experience levels and years of practice. That is what makes the lists both wonderful and difficult. As individuals in a great and rewarding profession, I am certain we can find ways to make these lists even more valuable than annoying.
As always if you have any questions or difficulties, never hesitate to contact me directly at email@example.com or 443-703-3039.