As a law student and future lawyer, most of your correspondence will be through an electronic medium, such as email. Because you are in a professional setting, you must ensure that your emails are well-mannered and sound professional. This includes both the format and content. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when drafting and sending emails.
Ascertain Your Audience
Think about your audience and who will receive your emails. Remember that in law school, you are dealing with professionals: your classmates, professors, deans, staff, and third parties. In addition, because you are now a law student, you must act professionally in your daily life; in other words, it is not something you can turn “on and off” anymore. Consider these thoughts when preparing to craft an email to a recipient.
Begin by determining your purpose and what outcome you expect from sending the email.
Consider This: Can u help me. Don’t mark me absent for the whole class. I was in class until the last part of class. Fix ASAP.
Versus This: Dear Professor:
Due to a family emergency yesterday, I had to leave the last half-hour of class. I did not have a chance to sign the attendance roster before I left; I wanted to make sure that I received attendance credit for the portion of the class that I was present for. Thank you, and please let me know if I need to provide you with any additional information.
Use Proper Grammar and Punctuation
Make sure always to use correct grammar and punctuation. Try not to use slang or abbreviations when sending an email. Excellent legal writing is one of a lawyer’s most important skills; thus, if you send email correspondence laden with text slang and emoticons, you could lose credibility.
Professional Email Addresses and Photos
Always make sure that you use a professional email address. In most cases, this will be the email that your institution issues to you. Using an unprofessional address, such as “princesssparkles007@gmai…,” will not be taken seriously by your professors, colleagues, or potential employers. On a similar note, if you have a picture linked to your email account, make sure that it is appropriate. This could be a professional photograph of your face.
Take care to pay attention to the subject lines of your emails. Make sure it is clear and tells your recipient what is included in the email. Never leave the subject line blank; try not to use one-word subjects, such as “Hey” or “Question.” In a profession that sends and receives multiple emails, this can help prioritize emails and helps to make sure that an email is not accidentally marked as spam.
Greetings and Salutations
Begin by opening your email with a greeting. Depending on the formality of your relationship, you may want to use the surname instead of their first name. If your email is not being sent to a particular person (e.g., job interview, email monitored by multiple personnel), you could use “To Whom It May Concern.”
Make sure to pay close attention to pronouns when entering your salutation. If you know the gender identification of the recipient, you can include that (e.g., Ms., Mrs., Mr., Mx., Dr.). Many times, you will be able to find this information in the person’s signature block. If you do not know this information, you could consider a general greeting of “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” “Good evening,” or “Hello.”
Finally, remember that titles are important in the legal profession. Make sure to always use “Professor,” “Dean,” “Attorney [name],” or “Judge” for those respective people.
Purpose and Thanks
If you initiate the email correspondence, begin by stating the purpose of sending the sentiment. For example, you could begin by including, “I am writing to ask about” or “I have a question regarding.” On the other hand, if you are replying to an email, think about starting the email by thanking them. This will put the reader at ease and make you appear courteous. For example, you could state, “Thank you for your prompt response,” or “Thank you very much for getting back to me.”
Use short paragraphs and not long blocks of text to make your emails easier to read. An email should be easy for the recipient to scan for the important points. Reading a large chunk of text can be aggravating and tedious, and it ultimately may cause your reader to lose track of the point of your email.
Unlike face-to-face conversations, telephone calls, or video conferences, text-based communications do not allow for physical gestures, voice inflection, or other cues. As a result, your reader may easily misinterpret the tone of your email if you are not careful with your prose. Try reading your completed email out loud in a flat tone before you send it to the recipient; this can help prevent you from being perceived as rude or presumptuous when you meant to be joking or polite. Also, refrain from using all capital letters because YOU DO NOT WANT YOUR READER TO THINK YOU ARE SCREAMING AT THEM! Rather, stick to basic, correct punctuation and minimal underlining and bolding in proper scenarios.
Consider This: Professor,
I WANTED TO MAKE SURE THAT I RECEIVED ATTENDANCE CREDIT FOR THE PORTION OF THE CLASS THAT I WAS PRESENT FOR.
Versus This: Professor,
I did not have a chance to sign the attendance roster before I left. Please let me know what steps I need to take to ensure I receive credit for the portion of class I was present for. Thank you.
Before you end your email, thank your reader and add a courteous closing remark. For example, “Thank you for your patience and for helping me with this matter,” “If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to let me know,” or “Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.”
End your email with a proper closing and your name. Proper closings could include “Sincerely,” “Best regards,” “Regards,” “Best,” or “Respectfully yours,” to name a few.
Read for Spelling and Grammar
Before you send your email, make sure that you proofread it for spelling and grammar. Note that many email providers alert you to incorrectly spelled words; however, you may also want to put your email into a Word document and check for spelling that way, too. Keep in mind that Word does not always catch incorrect grammar and punctuation. You likely will lose credibility quickly if you email a dean, professor, or potential attorney asking, “Weather their going too be available two meat two-morrow.”
Hopefully, these tips will help you craft a professional email when you send your next and future pieces of electronic correspondence.