Friday, May 9, 2014

Lawyers, Professors, and E-mail

You must all realize that we are in a service business. In this day and age of faxes, emails, internet, etc. clients expect you to be accessible 24\7. Of course, that is something of an exaggeration — but not much. . . . Unless you have very good reason not to (for example when you are asleep, in court or in a tunnel), you should be checking your emails every hour.  One of the last things you should do before you retire for the night is to check your email. That is why we give you blackberries.

- Bill Urquhart (Quinn Emanuel)

A recent Mother Jones article reminded me of the infamous e-mail from law firm partner Bill Urquhart, a portion of which is quoted above.  While Mr. Urquhart’s e-mail may have been a bit blunt, I think it captures the e-mail checking expectations at many of the top law firms.

My e-mail checking habits were formed at two large law firms and those habits have carried over into my current position as a professor.  E-mail checking is reflexive for me.  I don’t really want to know how many times a day I check my e-mail, but I would bet it is over 25x on most days. 

As the Mother Jones article and the studies it cites suggest, it seems that productivity could be increased and stress could be reduced through a more healthy relationship with e-mail.  Personally, I’d love to find that perfect balance where I am appropriately accessible and responsive, but also have blocks of time to focus on larger projects.      

What do our readers think?  How often should lawyers check (and respond to) their e-mail? Professors?

Business School, Haskell Murray, Law School | Permalink


Having spent over 20 years in practice, I confess to being an email fanatic (6 active email addresses) and it's not a good thing. I have read all of the studies that say that people are more productive when they check email twice or at the most three times a day. But I still haven't gotten rid of the habit. My students who email me often with questions (even about other coursework) or requests for appointments tend to appreciate my responsiveness. I also do a lot of work with community organizations and an NGO I work with so I can't just disconnect completely. I do draw the line at connecting when I am in the air- and I travel a lot. Unless I have a pressing deadline, I stay away from the email and online connectivity when I fly. I do know some other professors who never check email when they are not in the office. That must be very liberating!

Posted by: MARCIA NARINE | May 13, 2014 6:57:43 AM

Thanks for the comment Marcia. Students and colleagues have often thanked me for my responsiveness, and I want to remain responsive. Also, I don't mind a relative lack of responsiveness from others if the e-mail recipient has an auto response that says they are out of the office, working on a project, etc. and manages expectations for when a response can be expected. I think one could check/respond to e-mail once or twice a day and still be considered "responsive." I just haven't been able to kick the checking e-mail multiple times each hour habit.

Posted by: Haskell Murray | May 13, 2014 7:20:11 AM

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