Despite a nearly constant stream of think pieces about the death of email, in most businesses, including law practices, email is far from dead. According to market research firm, The Radicati Group, an average corporate email user receives 78 email messages every day. Another report, published by management consultant firm McKinsey & Company, notes “the average interaction worker spends 28% of the workweek managing e-mail.” As a late night infomercial would say: there’s got to be a better way.
As an attorney, your time is valuable both to you and to your clients. If you make the effort to spend less of your time wading through unwanted and unimportant emails and more time attending to actual work, you, your clients, and your family are likely to be a lot happier overall.

Establish a Routine

Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, says the most compelling way he has found to avoid total email overload is ” creating a routine and closely sticking to it.” This means checking email at regular intervals and clearing out your inbox as best as possible during those periods. Using this type of routine is much more effective than attempting to respond to every email as it comes in, which can end up eating hours of your day. But your routine is only going to be effective and efficient if you start with an organizational baseline.

Create Categories

If you are not already organizing your email by client or project, that’s a good place to start. But this type of categorizing it more broad and can save you a tremendous amount of time when it comes to your email management. Decide now which emails require immediate reply, which can wait, and which can go.
In a blog post aptly titled “Managing Email Realistically“, software developer Matt Gemmell lumps friends and family along with actually urgent emails in the “Reply Immediately” category while clients go into a “Reply Within 24 Hours” folder. As an attorney, you may have certain clients that require immediate replies, and it is easy enough to bump them up. But try to consider how often an email marked “urgent” is really and truly urgent. In reality, it’s probably not that often. Usually a reply within 24 hours will save you time in the end and not damage any relationships or future business prospects.


For many professionals, the RAFT method works well. RAFT stands for:

  • Read
  • Act
  • File
  • Trash

During your designated email time, do one of these four things for every message in your inbox. Productivity expert David Allen recommends replying when a message will take less than 2 minutes to craft. That way it’s off your plate and you do not have to spend more than 2 minutes filing it away and searching for it later. Otherwise, you can act by assigning the task, either to your To Do list or to someone else, file it away for future reference or put it directly into your trash folder.

Make Snap Judgments

When it comes to email management, it is essential to judge messages quickly. If you are spending time hemming and hawing about whether an email is important, you are not using your time wisely. Gemmell puts it this way; “If it doesn’t immediately and obviously make you feel you should reply to it within the next day or two, it’s not that important to you. Archive or delete it.” This keeps your inbox free from clutter without forcing you to spend hours setting up complicated rules or filters.

Be Ruthless

When you start to implement email management strategies, it can be difficult to send so many things to the trash. But it is important to be ruthless. If you accidentally trash or archive an important email, chances are high that you will hear from that person again and soon. People often think they have emergencies when they don’t. Or they contact the wrong person with a problem or concern. By getting rid of these time wasting emails right away, you will have more time for the important things. Gemmell even recommends never checking your trash or junk folders. Actually important emails don’t end up there and if they do, they’ll be sent again.

Email has changed the way nearly everyone communicates and does business – and attorneys are no exception. It can make communication faster between yourself, colleagues and clients. But if you spend too much time slogging through it every day, it can actually hinder your productivity. A recent report from UC Irvine showed that people who do not look at email regularly at work are less stressed and more productive. If you use your minutes wisely when it comes to your inbox, you will be happier and your practice will be happy to have you back.

photo credit: sskennel via photopin cc
photo credit: RambergMediaImages via photopin cc

About the author

Matt Faustman

Matt Faustman

Matt is the co-founder and CEO at UpCounsel. Matt believes in the power of online platforms to change antiquated ways of life and founded UpCounsel to make legal services efficiently accessible. He is responsible for our overall vision and growth of the UpCounsel platform. Before founding UpCounsel, Matt practiced as a startup and business attorney.

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