by Robert S. McNeill
Depending upon whom you ask, e-mail is either the
greatest thing to happen to lawyers since the invention of
the word processor, or the worst thing to happen to
lawyers since the invention of the word processor. The
point is that e-mail is a double-edged sword.
Sure, it lets you communicate instantly with anyone on
the planet. Trouble is, it lets everyone else on the
planet communicate with you at (their) will. And, it’s
For some reason hitherto undiagnosed by medical
science, lawyers who have a receptionist, a secretary, an
assistant, and a paralegal all guarding access to them by
phone, in person, or by mail open every e-mail as soon as
their computer pops up with, "You’ve got mail!" Junk mail
that would never get near a lawyer because it would be
deep-sixed by the staff gets opened immediately, and
becomes a huge time-waster. E-mail that would get
categorized as "do later" if it were of old-fashioned,
hard copy, mail, gets instant attention if it arrives as
E-mail is taking on more and more of the
characteristics of hard copy mail, i.e., it’s not just for
fun anymore. Messages from clients and other attorneys,
contracts and other attachments, all arrive via email that
a couple of years ago would have been sent by regular mail
or overnight courier. If you advertise your e-mail address
on your business card, you ignore incoming e-mail at your
peril because people actually expect you to read and act
on e-mail they send you very quickly.
Yet, we treat e-mail like we’ve been taught not
to treat hard copy mail. We let it sit in an electronic
inbox, or, at best, several inboxes, and it piles up and
up and up.
Unfortunately, we never seem to get around to taking
care of all of it, and it keeps piling up, day after day,
month after month, and year after year, until a couple of
hundred e-mails or more pile up, we get frustrated, and we
delete everything more than three months old without
looking at it because, "If it’s that old and it hasn’t
bitten me in the backside by now, it must not be that
Imagine what would happen if you let your hard copy
mail sit on the corner of your desk, and pile up and up
and up. Even if you divided it into different piles, it
would still stack up to the ceiling eventually.
Open up your e-mail program right now, and count the
number of e-mails in your folders. If you have less than
10, you can stop reading. If you have more than 100, tell
your staff to hold your calls and lock the door until you
finish this article.
The way lawyers have learned to handle hard copy mail
efficiently is probably some version of the RAFT method,
which basically translates to: handle a piece of mail once
and only once, and either:
- Refer it to someone else.
- Act on it.
- File it.
- Toss it out.
You can use this method without any computerized law
practice management system, but Time Matters®
gives you the tools to cut through your e-mail morass like
a warm electronic knife through digital butter.
Using Time Matters to handle your e-mail means never
having to print an e-mail and file it in a case file.
Using Time Matters means you don’t waste time physically
filing the e-mail, and then waste more time physically
retrieving it; or worse, not knowing that it’s in the file
to be retrieved.
For example, you send an e-mail to a client and tell
her "X" one day, and then she calls the next day and
speaks to your associate who tells her "not X" because he
didn’t know about the e-mail you sent.
At best, you may have saved the e-mail to a folder in
your e-mail program, or printed the e-mail to be filed. It
is problematic whether anyone else in the firm has access
to your e-mails (and you probably don’t want them to have
access to all of your e-mails, anyway), or whether the
printed version got filed. And, even if it did get filed,
whether your associate went to the trouble to find and
peruse the file before answering the client’s question.
Saving the e-mail in Time Matters, and relating it to
the case and contact, means that everyone in the firm (who
has sufficient security rights) can see the e-mail by
reviewing the electronic case file. Because the case and
contact are already set up, there are no inbox folders to
Many law practice management programs can save e-mail,
and relate it to a case or contact. However, once the
proper user settings are chosen, Time Matters throws you
an e-mail life RAFT to handle your e-mail much more
efficiently than just filing it to the electronic file by
reading it once and only once, and then taking one of the
To create the proper settings for each user, from the
Time Matters menu bar, select File | Program Setup | User
Level | E-Mail | Set Forms Options | Send | Set E-Mail
- Select Clear ‘Show on Inbox’ When Reading
E-Mail and Regarding Field is Completed so that
once you relate the e-mail to a Contact or Case
record it no longer appears in your inbox.
- Select Check ‘Show on List’ When Regarding
Field is Completed so that the e-mail is saved
on the Time Matters e-mail list.
- For Default for ‘Show on Inbox’ When Sending
E-Mail, select the Not Checked radio button.
- For Default for "Show on List" When Sending
E-Mail, select the Checked radio button.
- For Match E-Mail Address to Contact/Matter,
select the Always radio button.
Most of the e-mails you receive are probably from
people in your Contact list whose e-mail addresses are
already listed on their Time Matters Contact record, along
with their addresses and phone numbers. When you open an
e-mail in Time Matters, it automatically relates it to the
Case and Contact records if the sender’s e-mail address is
entered on her Contact record, and the Contact record is
related to a Case record as it should be.
If you don’t need to act on an e-mail, but just need to
FILE it in the Time Matters Case and Contact
records, all you have to do is click the Save & Close
button on the toolbar; much simpler than printing and
filing it. Anyone with security rights can see all the
e-mail related to the case or contact record, just as if
it were filed in a folder in the case file.
If the sender does not have a Contact record in Time
Matters and you want to add the sender as a Time Matters
Contact so that it can appear on everyone’s Contact
("Rolodex®" list) and relate the e-mail to the
new Contact record, simply create a new Contact record by
using the Control + Shift +C hot key combination (or add a
button to the toolbar to do the same thing). A new Contact
record is created, with the sender’s e-mail address
(and the sender’s name, if it is part of the e-mail
address) already populated in the record. The e-mail will
then automatically be related to the new Contact record,
and you can Save & Close the e-mail.
To ACT on an e-mail, use another keyboard
combination, Control + Shift + T to add a new To Do
record, or Control + Shift + V (or add buttons to the
toolbar) to add a new Event record. If the sender’s e-mail
address is in a Contact or Case record, that information
will be "inherited" by the new To Do or Event record, the
subject line of the e-mail will be inherited by the
Description field of the Time Matters record, and the
e-mail message will be inherited by the Memo field in the
Time Matters record. This not only creates a new To Do or
Event, but also includes the impetus (the text of the
e-mail message) of the new To Do or Event in the record so
you can see why the To Do or Event was scheduled. In
addition,, you can optionally give a To Do record a
Priority and a Classification Code so that you can "slice
and dice" (sort and filter) your To Do list to, e.g., show
only Document Review To Do’s that are due next week. Event
records can also be given a Classification Code so that
they can be sorted and appear in different colors on the
To REFER an e-mail to someone else to handle,
create a To Do as described above, but assign it to
someone else. Time Matters has several ways to notify the
person to whom you have delegated the task, and for you to
keep track on what you have delegated to whom and whether
it has been done, but that is the subject of another
article. (Or you can take a look at the information that
will soon be posted on Time Matters’ knowledge base at
To TOSS an e-mail, just click the Delete key on
the toolbar. Deleting can also be done using just the
Delete key on the keyboard or a right-click function. It
goes without saying that e-mails with attachments you do
not expect should be tossed, as well as junk mail. In
fact, instead of RAFT, the system should be called TFRA,
because the order of preference should be Toss it, File
it, Refer it, and Act on it only as a last resort.
By using your e-mail inbox as a gateway
to your law practice management system, and not as a
repository, you become much more efficient in
managing yours and others’ tasks. The inbox is terribly
inefficient as a To Do list, which is effectively how many
lawyers use their inboxes, even those with computerized
practice management systems.
You should be able to organize a To Do list by due
date. The dates of your e-mails are not the due dates for
the underlying tasks.
You should be able to organize a To Do list by
priority. E-mails cannot easily be assigned a priority or
listed in priority order.
You should be able to organize a To Do list by the
person who is supposed to do the work. There is no way to
determine which e-mails in your inbox actually represent
To Do’s that should be assigned to someone else.
You should be able to organize your To Do list by type
of task, e.g., limitations deadline, prepare for trial,
etc. There is way to easily catagorize an e-mail by the
type of work it may represent.
This last piece of advice has nothing to do with
computers and technology, just common sense.
Except in rare instances, you should not be checking
your e-mail every five minutes, or worse, having your
e-mail simply pop up, while you are working, e.g., writing
a brief, brainstorming case strategy, having a staff
meeting, etc. Your time is too valuable.
Does your staff interrupt you to tell you that you have
received an office supplies catalog? Not hardly? How about
a phone call from another attorney or client? It probably
depends on what you are doing at the time. Do you schedule
"quiet time" so that you can work on a project and not be
You should check your e-mail at certain times
throughout the day: in the morning when you get to work,
before you leave work, before and/or after lunch, and
perhaps other times, depending on your work schedule.
Robert S. McNeill is a former
practicing attorney and recovering e-mail junkie turned
law practice management systems consultant, and can be