Law Office Management
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Policies and Procedures for E-Mail Usage in Your Office

By Patricia Yevics
Director, Law Office Management
Maryland State Bar Association, Inc.

I receive more and more calls asking for some guidance on what rules or procedures solos and small firms should have regarding the use of e-mail and Internet access for employees. Unfortunately, most rules and procedures are not one size fits all. Solos and firms should establish procedures and policies that are best for their particular situations.

What I have presented here are some issues that need to be considered if you are using the internet and e-mail and giving internet access to your employees. They are questions you need to ask to determine which direction you should take. There are also some issues that you need to consider even if you do not have any employees or partners in your firm. As with all policies and procedures, they should be in writing, preferably in a loose-leaf binder or manual. All employees should receive copies of the written procedures and policies. In addition, all employees (even if there is only one) should sign off on receiving the information.

I believe all rules and policies should be kept to a minimum, should be reasonable and should be easy to enforce. No policy should be established because there is a problem with one employee.

E-Mail : No Firm is Too Small to be Prepared and Protected

1. Decide how restrictive you want to be when allowing employees to use e-mail. It probably should be similar to your policy for using the phone.

For the same reason you do not prohibit your employees from using the phone for any personal reasons, it is unlikely that you should not prohibit the use of email for any personal use.

However, if you have a domain name, there are some issues that present themselves when allowing e-mail for personal use. Every message that is sent by an employee using a firm e-mail, in essence, goes out on your (the firm's) electronic letterhead.

Your policy should indicate that the use of e-mail should be primarily for business use. Although the use for personal reasons is not prohibited some types of -email is completely prohibited. Some of those uses are:

a. Do not allow forwarding of jokes. While some of these jokes are amusing, you have no way of knowing where they ultimately end up and who may be offended. Forwarding jokes from the office e-mail is the same as send them on letterhead.
b. Do not allow the distribution of chain letters
c. Do not allow the employee to pass off personal views as representing those of the firm.
d. Do not allow employees to provide legal advice via e-mail.
e. Do not allow employees to use e-mail for any solicitation.
f. Do not allow employees to use e-mail for gambling pools.
g. Do not allow employees to use e-mail for religious or political causes.
h. Although it should go without saying, any messages that a reasonable person would find offensive are prohibited. Any messages that contain messages of a sexual nature or racial or ethnic slurs are prohibited.


2. Require that all employees (including you) have an electronic signature at the bottom of all e-mail. Determine what should be included. It should only be a few lines and should include the name of the person, firm name, address, phone and fax. Do not make it any longer. Do not allow any anonymous messages to be sent from your office. (For information on setting up signatures with Netscape Communicator or Microsoft Outlook, please go to the MSBA Website at and click on LOMA.
3. Another issue you must decide is what level of privacy should employees expect. Will the employee have some expectation of privacy or they have no expectation of privacy regarding e-mail communication. Which ever you choose, make certain that all employees understand the level of privacy. It would be best to put the policy in writing and have employees sign the policy. This is especially important if there is no expectation of privacy.

Regardless of the level of privacy, all employees should understand that highly confidential messages should not be sent via e-mail. Employees should also understand that deleted messages are not really deleted.

There should also be a policy regarding sending encrypted e-mail messages. Unless you have clients who request to have messages sent using encryption, this should not be allowed without permission.

4. Are you going to allow employees to participate in work related Email Lists? These can be very helpful but they should only be related to the legal profession. However, it is important to remember that these employees represent your firm. They should not be allowed to answer legal questions on-line or provide confidential information about the firm.
5. Will all e-mail messages be the property of the employer or will personal e-mail messages belong to the employee and business related messages belong to employer?
6. Establish a policy for deleting messages. There are not a lot of good reasons to keep most e-mail messages longer than a few weeks. For any messages that should be saved, establish a policy for creating folders for client messages and saving the messages in the appropriate folders.
7. There should also be rules as to when you and employees should use e-mail to communicate with clients and when you should use postal mail.
a. For most solos and small firms, e-mail should be used for informal communications with clients.
b You should not use e-mail for time sensitive messages.
c It is not a good idea to use e-mail for discussions involving extensive dialogue.
d Use e-mail to streamline communications. Use it for memos and short notes.
e Learn to use the attachment feature and send files of a non-confidential nature to clients and others.
f Do not open any attachments without using virus protection software.
g Always remember that you should NEVER put anything in e-mail that you would not want to see on somebody’s bulletin board.

If you would like more detailed policy information, please e-mail your name and mailing address to

In addition, please go to the LOMA section of the MSBA Website at for policies and procedures on Internet access for employees.

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