Service by Email Comes to Illinois

Recently the Illinois Supreme Court adopted an amendment to Supreme Court Rule 11, which deals with service of documents to opposing parties. This amendment, which takes effect January 1, 2013, allows attorneys to serve documents by email and it requires attorneys to provide an email address for service on all appearances and pleadings.

I think this is a great change. Admittedly, I think the rule requires some refinement (e.g., what formats are appropriate, when is email service effective). However, on the whole, I think this is a great step forward.

One Laptop Per ChildNot unexpectedly, however, there has been a significant outcry from members of the bar who are raising objections to this. Some of the objections that I see include the typical claims that this discriminates against attorneys who are not technologically savvy and that it provides no exemption for attorneys who do not have an email address.

Excuse me, but that is the most ridiculous thing that I have heard. I was doubly struck by the ridiculousness of the statement when I recently read an article about the One Laptop Per Child Program. This program aims to increase education by providing educational software to children in third world countries.

I recently read an article in which OLPC distributed Motorola Xoom tablets in Ethiopian villages. Significantly, the tablets were “distributed” by leaving them in sealed boxes in the middle of the village. Further, the village was one in which the children were illiterate. In fact, neither the children nor almost all of the adults in the village had never before seen the written word.

Notably, the children were provided with absolutely no instruction at all. OLPC monitored these devices and what the learned was amazing:

We left the boxes in the village. Closed. Taped shut. No instruction, no human being. I thought, the kids will play with the boxes! Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, but found the on/off switch. He’d never seen an on/off switch. He powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs [in English] in the village. And within five months, they had hacked Android. Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera! And they figured out it had a camera, and they hacked Android.

Think about it. Within 5 months, these children, who were not only illiterate, but also had never before seen the written word, were able to hack the security on the tablet to enable the camera.

I think if illiterate children in a third world country can manage to do that, then highly educated attorneys can figure out a way to obtain and manage an email address.

Although not related to OLPC project or email specifically, I find the following video on point.

Email Importance

I, like most other people I know, preform email triage. When I review the message in my inbox, I know which ones I need to respond to immediately and those that can wait. One of the things I have learned is that if I send an email regarding something that must occur by a particular time, I put, in the text of the email, the deadline that I need to hear back form the person as well as an explanation as to the deadline if necessary.

I don’t think my behavior is unusual. In fact, it seems in line with most of the people I deal with.

However, I have some clients who, every time they send me an email, they mark it as highest priority. This drives me nuts. Let’s be honest, not every email they send me is actually of highest priority. Further, I am not sure what they hope to accomplish by doing this. Turning the priority flag on certainly does not cause me to address the email any faster. Further, unless it is accompanied by some explanation in the email (which it never is) the fact that it is flagged as high priority really doesn’t tell my anything.

The other day the following comic showed up on my desk calendar. I think it perfectly encapsulates how I feel about this issue.

Email Signatures Requiring Confidentiality

Recently Chris Erb at erblawg wrote a post that hit on something that annoys me: the email signature that purportedly prohibits me from from doing anything with the message. Chris explains his frustration thusly:

These signatures are a pet peeve of mine. While the sender may hope that a couple of words in all caps will scare people into submission, there’s very little in the way of legal action which could be taken in the event I were to do any or all of those things. Quite simply, by sharing their wisdom with me outside of some contractual limitation on my behavior as the recipient (such as a confidentiality agreement between me and the sender) they ceded a significant meassure of control over the distribution of that wisdom. Absent any other restriction, the only real limitation on distribution would be copyright law, which may or may not help depending on the nature of the use. To my way of thinking, they’d be better off politely asking the recipient not to do those things and hope for the best. In my case, the mere attempt to “prohibit” makes me want to distribute the e-mail (or at least write a blog entry berating them for having a silly signature).

I agree with him on all of these points. One of my favorite comments, however, is what he ends with:

Of course, in this particular instance there’s another problem. Even if this were enforceable as written, I could, as a presumably “intended” recipient, apparently broadcast the e-mail to the world without arousing the ire of [the sender] . . . .

My favorite is when the “don’t distribute” warning is coupled with the “everything in this email is confidential and/or privileged” warning. What gets even better, is when I see this big long warning about not distributing the email, that the information is confidential and protected by privilege, and this entire warning is on the bottom of an email that is sent to a listserv that is distributed to thousands or tens of thousands of attorneys.

I know lots of people who use these warnings, but that doesn’t mean that you should do it. Think about the email that you are sending. If it contains confidential information, then label it as confidential (at the beginning of the email, not the end). Better yet, if the email really contains confidential information, is that something you should be sending via email. Is there a better way to communicate the information? Should you be using some sort of encrypted email?

Whatever you do, just don’t tag every email that you send with the same stupid warning about it being confidential and to not distribute it.

Another Reason to Own Your Own Domain

A couple of days ago, I posted about why you should own your own domain and not use a free email service for your professional emails. 3 Geeks and a Law Blog has published a couple of posts on the ethical dangers of using a free email address. In the first, after reviewing the terms of service for Google and Yahoo, the author concludes:

So beyond the security concerns, it appears that the use of popular, free email services for client communications is a violation of ethics rules since lawyers are revealing client information to a third party.

If you didn’t have enough reasons for moving to a secure email address on a domain you own, you can now add “getting a letter from Discipline Counsel” to the list.

In a more recent post, the author concludes with:

The legal profession holds itself out as having higher duties of care when it comes to securing client information. I suggest that using free email services with a TOS like Googles’ runs counter to this professional responsibility.

I think he has an excellent point.

A GMail Tip

The ABA Techshow Blog had a great GMail tip a couple of weeks ago. The post explains how you can tell if someone is accessing your GMail account from another location:

Once you’re signed in, at the bottom of the page you’ll find a lot of fine print.  Beneath where it indicates how much of your allotted storage space you’re currently using, you’ll see a line that gives the time and IP address of your last account activity.  Click on the “Details” link, and you’ll be taken to a window showing the last several times anyone signed in to your account, how (Browser, mobile, POP3, etc.), the IP address, and the time.  It will also tell you whether there is concurrent activity.  There’s also a button to allow you to close any concurrent sessions and link to allow you to change your password immediately.

I know that most people have a GMail account that they use for some purpose. Doesn’t it make sense to check this every once in a while to make sure someone else isn’t accessing your account?

Make Sure Your Communication is a Two Way Street

Many of us get into a habit of doing things in a certain manner. Once we develop these habits, it’s often very difficult for us to change them. However, we must remember that, just because we do things a certain way, that does not mean that everyone else does it the same way.

This is especially true when dealing with our clients. We need to keep in mind that the way things work in the legal world, is not the way that things work in the real world. If your client sends you an email to ask you a question, he probably does not want you to respond to him with a letter. On the other hand, if your client always calls you and never uses his email, maybe your best communication with him is via phone, not email.

Please note that I am posting this gentle reminder because I don’t want to rant about a person I am dealing with who insists on responding to my emails by mailing me documents. I don’t understand his obsession with doing this and it is driving me crazy. In fact, based on our coorespondence thus far, I have concluded that I will be purchasing my services through someone other than him.

Backing Up Your Gmail Account

I along with many other people I know have a Gmail account. I don’t use mine for business, however, I know that some people do.

If you are using your Gmail account for anything that is at all important, you need to check out Gmail Backup. Gmail backup is a nifty utility that allows you to backup your Gmail account. thus preventing you from losing any of your important emails. Google is good, but it is not infallible. Given the email outages that have happened with the Gmail service, it is not inconceivable that you could lose some of your emails at times.

If you use Gmail for anything important at all, I suggest you check out Gmail Backup.

Hat tip to Inter Alia for pointing this out.