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Never Conduct Law Firm Business Using Your Personal Email Account: Here’s Why

A surprising number of lawyers continue to use personal email addresses for sending and receiving correspondence pertaining to client matters.

This is a mistake.

All such emails should go out and come in via your firm’s email account and professional domain. That is to say, a business email account as opposed to a personal account.  (i.e. [email protected] vs [email protected] or [email protected] … yes, I see more @aol.com accounts than I’d like to admit.)

Two significant reasons why.

First, a business email account bespeaks your professionalism.

Second, a business email account helps you fulfill your obligations to protect the confidentiality of the client data entrusted to your safekeeping.

Credibility Begets Trust

Let’s revisit that first reason so I can show you what I mean about professionalism.

Imagine you’re interested in hiring a financial advisor you’ll be counting on to help you build significant wealth between now and retirement. You open Google and type in the search phrase “financial advisers near me.” Google coughs up just two results (sure, in real life, you’d be shown 10 million financial advisers near you, but stick with me here).

Google shows you the email address of each of these two financial advisors. The first one is [email protected]

The second is [email protected]

Which of these fictitious email addresses says to you that the individual it belongs to is a reputable professional? Most people will likely point to the [email protected] address because, being the name of a business (to wit, BobaGuard Financial), it connotes gravitas. As for the other address, many, if not most, people will assume the owner is merely a hobbyist or perhaps even a bit of a flake because that address’s domain name—AOL (America Online)—is one most people associate with personal uses.

(As an aside, [email protected] isn’t an actual address; I made it up to illustrate my point, so please don’t use it to try reaching out to me. The same goes for that AOL email, though a financial advisor could use that email address today.)

Speaking of America Online, if you use this service (or, rather, if you’re still using this service), you should stop. AOL is really, really old. Ditto, hotmail.com and yahoo.com. In a thought-provoking article, FindLaw asserted that AOL et al. are ancient, and “an ancient email account just screams that you are out of touch with today’s tech.” That warning was penned four years ago—and if that class of email services was outdated in 2018, how much more so must it be in 2022?

Okay, so back to the issue at hand. Hopefully, I’ve established that emails sent and received from a business domain convey an image of professionalism. As an added benefit, it also confers upon your law firm an aura of legitimacy, which in turn promotes trust.

Trust is crucial if you want your emails to be opened by the recipient. According to the online marketing organization Campaign Monitor, open rates are higher for emails sent from a business email address than those sent from a personal account.

Let me say this one more way: if you are using a personal domain, you have been passed over for business – many times over. What’s the average value of a single client to you?

Business Email is Safer

Let’s focus now on the not-inconsequential matter of data security.

Many lawyers use the free versions of Google Gmail (@gmail.com) or Microsoft Outlook (@outlook.com). Why not? It’s free. That’s a no-brainer.

Except for one small fly in the ointment.

Those free email products do not give you full legal control over the contents of your transmittals, neither inbound nor outbound.

Lack of full control may be acceptable when it comes to the emails you exchange with Aunt Martha about family recipes and Cousin Sally’s wedding plans, but not when it comes to correspondence between you and your clients. In that instance, you must have total legal control over those emails—especially since your state bar’s disciplinary board will almost surely demand no less of you.

Absenting total legal control over your emails, you will be incapable of guaranteeing the confidentiality of your electronic back-and-forth discussions with clients. Only a business email address that you purchase can promise you complete legal control.

A paid business email address is essential in other ways, too, where safety is concerned. For one, it makes it less likely the recipient’s email system will flag your communique as spam. Because spammers love free email addresses, legitimate email processors have responded by creating filters that flag those as spam. Unfortunately, those filters can seldom differentiate between legit correspondences and come-ons, so the vast majority of stuff whose provenance is a free email address is blocked from reaching the recipient’s inbox.

So, if you want to ensure that emails addressed to clients are received, you need to forego the free email services and instead sign up with an email hosting provider that charges you a fee (monthly or yearly) to host your email server. However, before you do that, you need to acquire a domain name (if you’ve already got one, great, use it!).

Although you’ll pay to obtain a business email address, it’s hardly a cost that will sink you or even set you back—they’re actually very inexpensive. They’re also very easy to acquire. As such, there’s nothing standing in your way of switching from an actual or perceived personal email address to one belonging solely to your law firm.

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