Are You Making These Mistakes with Your E-mail Trailers
Personalize the Trailer to Engage the Reader
An e-mail trailer provides an opportunity for the reader and firm to engage. Using mindless disclaimers at the end of an e-mail misses an opportunity to stand out and differentiate yourself and your firm. In this article, the author discusses the opportunity and provides some clever trailers used by established firmsâ€¦that do work.
Are you guilty of using e-mail trailers that sound like a legal blitzkrieg? Â And if someone receives one of your e-mails by accident, do they have to jump through hoops to fix your error? Â Do you think your legalized trailers protect you from liability?
How do you feel when you receive e-mails with THOSE kinds of trailersâ€¦or are you so numb to them that you donâ€™t even bother to read them? Â More importantly, are you missing an opportunity to personally connect with your e-mail readers?
E-mail trailers.Â The tortious language we insert at the end of our electronic messages.
Here is a trailer from a recent e-mail that I receivedâ€”typical of what we all encounter.Â The numbers in brackets are of my own creation and relate to the notations that follow.
The information contained in this electronic message and  any attachments to this message are intended for  the exclusive use of the addressee(s) and  may contain confidential or privileged information.Â  No representation is made on its accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this electronic message.Â  Certain assumptions may have been made in the preparation of this material as at this date, and are subject to change without notice.Â  If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination, distribution or copying of this e-mail and any attachment(s) is  strictly prohibited.Â  Please reply to the sender and  destroy all copies of this message and any attachments from your system.
The funny thing was that this e-mail was announcing/promoting an article the person had recently written, and it included a link to where it was published.Â My thoughts:
- There were no attachments.
- Havenâ€™t the recipients on the e-mail list previously been verified?
- There was no confidential or privileged information.
- Does this mean that I canâ€™t rely on the accuracy of your article?
- Given the nature of this e-mail, what assumptions?
- See #2.
- Prohibited by whom or what?
- You mean I should waste more of my time by replying to you?
- There is no obligation, legal or otherwise, to do so.
This is what happens when we use the same trailer for every e-mail we send.Â Itâ€™s boilerplateâ€¦most of it does not applyâ€¦and it alienates the recipient.
So why do we use these e-mail trailers?
I think there are two answers: (a) big firms include them and we copy their behavior so we look like weâ€™re part of the cool crowd and (b) perhaps more importantly, we believe they will limit our liability.Â You may have other thoughts/ideas.
Question: Has anyone ever seen a written representation from a law firm that says these e-mail trailers will, in fact, offer us some protection?
If you receive an e-mail from me, youâ€™ll see I donâ€™t do these trailers.Â I used to, but I stopped doing it years ago.Â The world is still spinning.Â And I havenâ€™t been sued.
Recently, this subject was addressed in a published post on LinkedIn.Â The author was from Australia; he talked about practices he sees in his country, and I liked some of the alternative e-mail trailers he highlighted.
This one is from an attorney (an attorney!) in Sydney:
We donâ€™t disclaim anything about this e-mail.Â Weâ€™re quite proud of it really.
The attorney says: â€śTraditional footers are crap.Â And not only that, Iâ€™ve researched it across practically every major jurisdiction and there is not a single, solitary case anywhere thatâ€™s been won or lost based on a footer.Â They are irrelevant in terms of protecting anyone.â€ť
Or this one from an accountant in Brisbane:
If I need to limit my liability, Iâ€™ll tell you.Â Until then, consider my capacity to help limitless.Â Ohâ€¦if you read this and find inspiration in it, please click here [link].
The link takes you to a Thank You landing page on the firmâ€™s website that invites you to read about a charity that she supports.
There were other examples that expressed some humor and, like the trailers above, gave a glimpse of the professionalâ€™s personality.
So what are we hoping to accomplish with our e-mail trailers? Â If we think the primary purpose is to limit our liabilityâ€”and that effect is a stretchâ€”then why have them?
An alternative might be to use an e-mail trailer that connects with readers, maybe even make them smile, and not one that sounds so off-putting.
My suggestions going forward are:
- If you canâ€™t banish this kind of trailer completely, reword it so it doesnâ€™t sound so harsh.Â No one wants to feel like they’re being admonished for an error they didn’t make.
- Use your e-mail platform (Outlook, Gmail) to create alternative “signatures” for different kinds of communications.Â For example, no trailer is needed if you’re just scheduling a lunch meeting.
What do you think? Â What do you do? Â And more importantly, why do you do it? Â E-mail me (sans trailer) at email@example.com and let me know.
Rod Burkert, CPA, ABV, CVA is President of Burkert Valuation Advisors, LLC. Heâ€™s reinvented his practice several times after going solo in July 2000. Today, Mr. Burkert has built a practice that offers coaching, training, and consulting to colleagues and clients in the BVFLS world. And since March 2010, heâ€™s been traveling full time throughout the United States and Canada in an RV with his wife and their two dogs.