Legal Technology

Judge’s Footnoted Netiquette Rules Address Confrontation, Exclamation Points

Judge Gerald Lebovits has some opinions about the propriety of exclamation points and emoticons in e-mails.

But don’t take his word for it. In an article first published in the New York State Bar Association Journal, the New York housing court judge uses 60 footnotes to back up his his e-mail netiquette rules for lawyers.

Lebovits offers this advice:

• Use the subject line to its full potential to help the reader decide what gets first priority. It also helps to ask questions up front in an e-mail, so the reader will get to it before stopping reading.

• If an e-mail leads to confrontation, end it and, if it’s appropriate, agree to speak in person or by phone. Misunderstandings can be avoided if you “generously interpret” the writer’s meaning.

• Don’t use a lot of abbreviations. If they are ambiguous, they can waste the reader’s time.

• Lose the emoticons. They don’t convey meaning in a professional setting.

• Exclamation points have their place. They can show enthusiasm and human warmth. Writing “Congratulations!” is expressive, while “Congratulations” may sound apathetic or sarcastic. But don’t use exclamation points after expressing a negative emotion—it’s the same as throwing a tantrum.

• Project respect in salutations and closings. If you are not sure how to address your e-mail, mirror earlier correspondence. If there is no previous correspondence, use last names and titles. As for closings, these work: “All best,” “All the best,” “Best,” “Best regards,” “Best wishes,” “Cordially,” “Regards,” “Respectfully,” “Sincerely,” “Sincerely yours” and “Yours.”

Hat tip to Legal Blog Watch, citing the (new) legal writer blog.

Related coverage: “Emoticons a Sign You Should Step Away from the Keyboard, Firm Chair Says”

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