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Emails: Respond to Others as You Would Want Them to Respond to You

I enjoy my Sunday New York Times. Not last Sunday but the one before, I saw this article, You Can’t Ignore Your Email, It’s Rude  It is rude to ignore email, and this is good advice from an often-maligned publication. The article impressed me enough that I sent it to everyone in the firm, as well as my children and a few others.

It’s an anecdotal observation, but it seems to me that in the last couple of years people ignoring emails has become more commonplace.  To some degree, this is understandable as all of us can get overloaded by messages at times.  And it’s not like any of us have any right to expect instantaneous responses, especially for emails sent outside of regular business hours.  Still, it seems to me there is a problem, much like the issue of not returning calls when I was a young lawyer.  Email is the accepted mode of communication. It’s extremely frustrating when those you are dealing with, whether internally or externally, can’t be relied upon to give timely responses to reasonable inquiries. Business doesn’t get transacted efficiently and people get mad as frustration sets in. 

Three days after seeing the New York Times article and circulating it, I came upon an example of non-responsiveness that truly shocked me. A local prosecutor investigated the death of an inmate. She wanted to interview the employees of the company that provided healthcare at the jail. The lawyer for the company initially agreed to cooperate but then largely declined to actually do so. After around a year and a half, the prosecutor issued a public report on her investigation. Being a high-profile matter, it appeared in the press.  The report was scathing both as to how the inmate was treated and the medical care he received, but also as to the conduct of the lawyer. There were references to “weeks and even months” when the lawyer didn’t respond to emails. The prosecutor’s anger was palpable in her report – and she even attached over 100 pages of her email exchanges with this lawyer. In essence, the prosecutor was “ghosted” by the other lawyer and you cannot fault her for being mad. 

Ignoring people or issues is generally not a good idea.  As a general rule, delivering bad news or a change of position does not get any easier with the passage of time. Indeed, it usually makes the situation worse. The moral to the story here is actually a pretty simple one: Respond to others as you would want them to respond to you.  If that sounds a bit like the Golden Rule, that was the intent. 


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