Fighting Flabby Files

Illustration by Jim Frazier

It’s hard to imagine the practice of law before e-mail. but unfortunately for us, it’s easy to see e-mail is rapidly becoming a standard application that’s been asked to do far more than was ever intended. While it’s not time to talk about “the death of e-mail,” it is clear we are starting to look at the many alternatives—instant messaging, extranets, wikis and many more—to address its perceived shortcomings.

A great example of how the utility of e-mail is breaking down is in the area of transferring and providing access to large files. Fortunately, this is also a great area to show how simple low-cost and no-cost changes can alleviate daily hassles.

We run into problems because of two developments in the area of attachments. First, people send more attachments than ever. And second, attachments have grown immensely in size. On an average day, a lawyer might send or receive large Word files, PowerPoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets; digital photos and images; scans of documents and graphics; and audio and video.

This use of large attachments causes several problems, including:

• ISPs and e-mail systems of business organizations may not accept or allow you to send attachments larger than 10 megabytes.

• Many organizations limit the size of employees’ inboxes. A recipient might have to spend time archiving or deleting e-mail to clear space.

• Delays or cost increases hit when people only have access over mobile phones or through a dial-up account, or have limited data plans.


I have two ways to deal with large attachments that you send, and you may suggest them to people who send you large attachments: Shrink file sizes and transfer files outside of e-mails.

Many people don’t realize how easy it is to shrink large attachments: Save Word documents in the RTF format, drastically reducing file size. Large PowerPoint files often contain uncompressed images. Spend a few minutes in the PowerPoint Help menu and you’ll find out how to compress the images.

Perhaps the easiest way to reduce file sizes is to save documents as PDFs with a PDF-creation program. I’ve seen file sizes reduced by 90 percent this way.

Adobe Acrobat users can shrink files in two other easy ways. First, set default settings to save your documents using the Smallest File Size setting (or if you print to PDF, in your default printer settings). Second, use the Reduce File Size feature. The Help menu has details.

And though it feels a little “old school,” you can also “zip” or compress files before you send them. Use a program like WinZip or the compression tools built into Windows.

When you must send large files, I recommend alternatives to e-mail so that you don’t even use attachments. Instead, send an e-mail with a link to a website where the document is available to be downloaded.

Some firms have extranets for clients where documents can be uploaded to a secure private website. Some collaboration websites such as Google Docs allow you to place a document on the site and invite your recipient to share it, either to access it or work on it.

There are also simple, often free, websites that allow you to upload large documents and send links for downloading the file. These services are attractive for lawyers in small firms or for anyone who wants to quickly and easily transfer large files. I use such a site to send the audio files for my podcast to my producers.

When using these services, you set up an account (which can be free for files up to 100 megabytes, but is still inexpensive for premium accounts) and then upload your file using simple tools on the site. The service sends your specified recipient(s) an e-mail notice with a hyperlink to the file.

I’ve had many lawyers tell me that moving the transfer of large files out­side the e-mail system has been a positive change. It’s a great example of small, simple technology improvements that have a big impact on the daily practice of law.

Dennis Kennedy is a St. Louis-based computer lawyer and legal technology writer. His website,, is the home of his blog. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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