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Email Anxiety

View profile for Paul Fox

Post-cinema pub discussions often turn to the seismic shift in the way we communicate, and its effect on films. The number of movies which would no longer work were letters to be supplanted by emails is never-ending: only think of the spine-chilling scene in last year’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, when Benedict Cumberbatch tracking down a paper file in a dim administrative office was so tense as to leave members of the audience needing beta-blockers.  Remotely accessing a colleague’s laptop may be more convenient, but lacks a certain romance.

For all that lost ‘romance’, few lawyers would willingly return to the days of teetering in-trays and toppling out-trays – of lost letters, unstapled attachments, blurred photocopies and last-minute dashes to catch the post. How much more civilised is the beep from a mobile phone, and the glow of a tablet computer!

But the new age of communication comes with its own burden. A recent survey by the McKinsey Global Institute has found that professionals such as lawyers spend up to 28% of their working hours handling emails, and a further 19% handling with tasks arising from their inbox. As the Law Gazette remarks: “With nearly half the workday devoted to managing email, it is now wonder many lawyers complain of information overload.”

How to manage such a staggering information overload? Most lawyers opt to create virtual filing cabinets, storing emails by sender or topic. Unfortunately, this approach limits the vitality of the email: a crucially important attachment misfiled away from the inbox is almost as irretrievable as a paper file consigned to the fire.

Information mismanagement brings stress and anxiety to a lawyer’s working day – and, more troublingly, can profoundly impact on a client’s experience and the outcome of a case. The Law Gazette urges firms to consider implementing document management systems “that include an email management component,  to serve as a single point of reference that the entire legal team can leverage.” It recommends that firms invest in information management software that enhances collaboration between the whole legal team; simplifies email and document organisation; improves access to emails and documents; and ensures the preservation and security of information.

Firms bewildered by the range of information software and tech available should seek advice from professional litigation support partners such as Legastat, who can advise on the best way forward. The high anxiety of searching for lost documents might make good viewing when seated comfortably with a tub of sweet popcorn – but it has no place in the lawyer’s office.