E-mail is like a grade-school tattletale – it never forgets the bad things you type and it doesn’t hesitate to point the finger at you when someone asks “who wrote that?”
It is with that thought in mind that I authored “E-mail Emergencies” for Inside Counsel magazine’s InsideTech section (I would highly recommend subscribing to the free e-mail newsletter). No matter how fantastic a product may sound in promising to collect, archive, and scour your company’s e-mail stockpiles, nothing will protect you from the irresponsible (however innocent) e-mailed blurt of an employee except consistent training (gag) and heightened awareness (do we have to?).
People just don’t perceive e-mail as an official form of business communication. E-mail seems so personal, so intimate, so covert, so furtive. Most people think nothing of forwarding a dirty joke to a few select friends. And an e-mail message seems like the perfect way to retaliate against a co-worker while avoiding an in-person confrontation.
But e-mails don’t go anywhere. Even while you might have done all to delete a message on your end, and maybe the backup tape rotation has long forgotten your bombastic rant, the recipient probably saved a copy or even printed it out.
There is no shortage of companies getting tripped up by errant employees who take the longevity of e-mail for granted. Two of my favorite examples are KPMG and Merck. Granted, these two stories are older (2002 and 2000 respectively), but I am not convinced that corporate America has not completely learned the lesson that e-mail keeps no secrets.
Perhaps there is a little promise, however. Law.com ran a story entitled “E-Mail Carries the Power of Paper” a few days ago reporting that a Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the two parties agreed to a settlement in an e-mail exchange for a contractual dispute. While at least one of the parties didn’t think they were bound by the terms of the e-mail exchange, the court found that the e-mail messages contained the business terms essential to a successful agreement.
Hopefully, that decision will help boost the traditional “cavalier” perception of e-mail to a legitimate business communication tool that must be taken seriously.
Link to my article “E-mail Emergencies.”
P.S. I wanted to say a special thank-you to Tom Mighell at inter alia for naming ediscoveryinfo the Blawg of the Day on Monday, January 14, 2008. Tom is the Planning Board Chair for this year’s ABA TECHSHOW and he is doing a fabulous job of getting everything together for March 13-14.