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Hillary Clinton Didn't Have a Work Email Account, but Lawyers Should

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on March 03, 2015 11:45 AM

As if Hillary Clinton needed more trouble stemming from her time as secretary of state, The New York Times reports that she used a personal email account "exclusively" to conduct official State Department business. That's potentially problematic, thanks to federal laws requiring retention of agency emails as official records.

This raises the question: When do you use work email and when do you use personal email? And can it get you into any ethical hot water?

Firewall

Separating personal and work correspondence in separate email accounts makes finding records easy and minimizes the chance that you'll miss something if you're looking for client-related messages. Your correspondence with your client is part of the file which belongs to the client, and at the end of representation, the client can get the file back.

Using a work-only email account for client correspondence also shows that you're serious about preserving information, which (like Hillary) could become important in a proceeding against you. The state bar investigates complaints from unhappy clients, and even if it amounts to nothing, you may have to still turn over emails to show, for example, that you explained the retainer in writing. Putting all those emails in one place creates an aura that you're a professional.

On the flip side, when a state bar investigation comes around, only your professional correspondence is relevant, so unless you want your personal emails to be disclosed to the state bar, use a separate email account for the law stuff.

Don't Give Up Those Privileges

One of the big email concerns arises when an employee of a company emails a lawyer through a company computer. It depends on the state and the company's policies, but such communications might not be protected if the employee is on notice that the employer actively monitors and records email transactions.

Using a separate, encrypted email system bolsters the client's reasonable expectation of privacy in the event that the employer wants to disclose the attorney-client correspondence in court. It also tends to show that you and the client are corresponding for some legal reasons, not just because you want to talk about how awesome the last episode of "The Good Wife" was.

Convenience

And, finally, convenience. If your state bar publishes your email address on the state bar website, you may get some weird emails from crazy randos. You don't want that stuff flooding your personal inbox, which is already stuffed to the gills with "Barack Obama is a secret Muslim" conspiracy theories forwarded from Aunt Hilda and a bunch of Groupons for $10 off a Shawarma-based massage. You can at least cut down on the number of messages in that mailbox by ensuring the sovereign citizens email you at a different address.

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