Leveling Up Your Legal Emails

Learn tips for crafting polished legal emails, focusing on clear subjects, concise summaries, structured content, and attention to detail to boost professional reputation.
  • Joe Regalia
Email is how the real legal work gets done. For lawyers, the ability to draft an effective email is a demonstration of their legal acumen and professionalism. A well-crafted email can bolster an attorney’s reputation, while a poorly composed one can undermine it.

Email Openings

Good emails begin with the subject line. Good subject lines don’t just provide a topic for readers: They offer enough information for recipients to triage, deciding when to read the email (if at all), and why it matters. Consider crafting subject lines that include the matter your email is related to, how urgent it is, and what information you’re conveying. A precise subject line sets the tone and expectations, like “Need a response by tomorrow for Smith case discovery deadline.”
Your email opening should usually be a polite yet direct salutation, setting the stage for a professional interaction. Colleagues can often be referred to by their first names. With others (like clients), it’s often smartest to start with a more formal salutation until you’re told otherwise. 
Your opening paragraph then plays a crucial role. Good email openers are a compass, guiding the reader to the heart of the message. For example:
“I am writing to update you on the latest developments in the Smith case, which may impact our strategy moving forward.”
Make sure your reader knows precisely why you are emailing and what it’s about.

Email Content

When you get to the email’s body, start with a quick summary of the most important takeaways. As always, leading with the most important points will do the work for readers and free them up to decide if they need to keep reading. 
So don’t do what this lawyer did—which is to merely share the general topics and conclusions from a long email, without focusing readers on what the need to know: 
“The EU has enacted a number of advertising-related laws in the past four years. These new laws address a wide variety of issues, including the format, manner, timing, and other aspects of online marketing efforts that occur within the EU. Among these are several laws regulating advertising through email. It appears that the proposed marketing program could violate several of these provisions.”
Instead, figure out a few manageable takeaways for readers that will sum up the most critical, useful information they need from the email: 
“The marketing team wants to send advertisement emails to potential clients in the EU and asked our team for advice about how to do so lawfully.
EU law requires us to only email people who have somehow interacted with our company before: like answering a non-marketing email, emailing or calling someone at our company, or some other communication. So we will need to ensure our advertisement emails only go to people that meet this criteria. All emails should also include a simple link or message making it easy to opt out of future emails.”

Distilling Emails

Above all, remember how helpful distilling takeaways for readers is, even at the paragraph level. If you were emailing a colleague updates about a case you’ve been working on, don’t expect them to do all the work, like this lawyer did:
“The team has reviewed over 100,000 documents related to the Galadrial deal for our client Terry Corp. We were looking for documents that could create financial risk, specifically lawsuits and federal compliance issues.
Critically, we did find a particular batch of documents suggesting that Terry Corp. was sued for failing to disclose to shareholders that one of its manufacturing centers burned down. Although that lawsuit, it turns out, is still ongoing, Terry had a slew of lawyers and firms do an analysis, and it‘s almost certain that the omission was not material and that Terry will succeed in defending the claim. So we don‘t think this lawsuit will create any risk that would jeopardize the deal.”
Instead, do the work at the outset, distilling what they need to know first:
“In reviewing documents for Terry‘s Galadrial deal, we discovered an undisclosed lawsuit—but multiple outside reviewers suggest the omission at the heart of the suit is minor and that there is no real risk to the overall deal. …”


Perhaps the most important email skill, though, is to use structure and white space to make your message easy to navigate on the small screens your readers will often be using. Use bullet points, numbered lists, or headings to break down complex information. Use shorter paragraphs and white space to help readers easily jump around, even if they are reading on a device like a smartphone.
For example, take this email sharing some research about statutes of limitations in three jurisdictions: 
“I looked into the regulations in Jurisdiction A, B, and C. In Jurisdiction A, the statute of limitations is 3 years. Relevant here is that we may not be able to toll the limitations period, as we have been planning to do, because financial fraud cases like ours do not qualify for tolling. Jurisdiction B has a 5-year statute, but it can be extended under certain conditions. There‘s a landmark case from 2018 that might be relevant because it required a different tolling standard going forward, and we are arguing the limitations period is tolled. Jurisdiction C doesn‘t have a fixed statute; it‘s based on the discretion of the court. We have found some similar cases to ours where the limitations period was set at 5 years, which is the best guidance we have.”
Give some thought to how you can label, categorize, and break up dense information like this. Here, perhaps we can take one jurisdiction at a time and use headings and white space to make it easy for readers to find the different sorts of useful information: 
“Here is what I‘ve found for the three jurisdictions:
Jurisdiction A:
Statute of Limitations: 3 years.
What to know: Financial fraud cases like ours trigger an exception that prevents tolling.
Implications: Given our case's nature, the exception could be relevant and we may not be able to toll the period.
Jurisdiction B:
Statute of Limitations: 5 years, with potential extensions.
What to know: There's a landmark case from 2018 that might be relevant because it required a different tolling standard going forward, and we are arguing the limitations period is tolled.
Implications: We need to explore the conditions for extending the statute.
Jurisdiction C:
Statute of Limitations: Discretionary, determined by the court.
What to know: We have found some similar cases to ours where the limitations period was set at 5 years, which is the best guidance we have.
Implications: We won't know for sure what limitations period applies here, although 5 years is most likely.”
A bit easier to digest, right? Taking the extra time to organize and make your points more digestible in quick emails will make a big impression on readers.

Final Tips

A few more tips to keep in mind:
  • Attention to detail is non-negotiable. Every word counts, and each sentence should be clear, self-contained, and purposeful. Poor writing will stand out in short emails in particular.
  • Your tone should convey professionalism and confidence. Avoid words you wouldn’t use in a more formal letter or brief.
  • Before sending, double-check the content, attachments, and the recipients.
  • Consider using a simple email checklist to ensure you never miss any key steps. And that includes at least a quick edit and proofreading phase on the writing itself.
Joe Regalia
Write.law co-founder Joe Regalia combines his experience as both practitioner and professor to create exciting new ways to teach legal skills.  Learn more about Joe

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