Filtering emails, automatically copying sent messages and issuing meeting invites all save time and create a virtual paper trail

By Geri L. Dreiling, Esq.

Microsoft Outlook 2010 boxed edition

For lawyers, email management is essential. Missed appointments, overlooked urgent emails and inability to produce responses to a client’s emailed questions can be more than embarrassments; they could trigger a call to your malpractice carrier. Having multiple systems in place is a good idea — and Outlook can be a valuable tool in that respect.

Last summer, Kansas City lawyer J. Zachary Bickel presented a program at the Missouri Bar’s Solo and Small Firm Conference about Microsoft Outlook. Lawyer Tech Review asked Bickel, a partner with The Robertson Law Group, to highlight three often-overlooked features of Outlook that help attorneys organize their practices and track information.

1. Creation of rules for incoming and outgoing emails

Lawyers work with rules every day. Outlook offers a way to create them to tame the inbox in a way that is intuitive to most lawyers: making a separate folder for each client or each case. Every email pertaining to that client or case will be sent directly to that file. Just as every case-related piece of paper finds its way into a physical file, the emails will find a home in an email folder.

Bickel explains, “I have at least 100, if not more, emails on a daily basis. Organizing them manually without a mistake would be difficult and time consuming — and when you have clients who are on budgets, you cannot, and should not, bill this time to them.”

Bickel shares the steps for Microsoft Outlook 2010 (affiliate link,) but they also work with Outlook 2007:

  • Go to your Outlook mailbox and right-click on the subfolder Mailbox. (In Outlook 2007, right-click on Inbox.)
  • Select New Folder, type the client identifier and hit the Enter key.
Create New Folder in Outlook
  • To create a rule to filter emails into the newly created folder, simply right-click on a message from a sender whose messages you wish to divert into the folder.
  • Select Create Rule from the menu. Make sure the folder is checked and select Move the Item to Folder. Click Select Folder and highlight the desired target folder. To filter all of the existing messages into the folder check, “Run this rule now on messages already in the current folder.”
Create filtering rule in Outlook
  • Click Okay to apply, and the rule will automatically filter new messages from that sender into the folder.

2. Automatically copying every sent message

For lawyers, the paper trail — whether physical or virtual — is vital. Every email matters, not only the ones received but also the ones sent. Disputes can erupt over the specific terms parties agreed to settle a case or whether clients received responses to their emails. Having your responses easily accessible can quickly end a brewing controversy.

“If you auto-CC when communicating with clients, opposing counsel and internal staff, you’ll have a record of what was said, what was agreed upon and where disagreements arose,” notes Bickel. “Couple the auto-CC feature with filtering your emails using a rule leads to invaluable recordkeeping and organization.”

To automatically copy your messages:

  • From the menu toolbar, select Tools and drop down to Rules and Alerts.
  • Click New Rule and highlight “Check messages after sending.” Click Next.
  • Where it says “Copy all mail you send,” click Next.
  • If you do not have a filtering rule set up, click Yes.  Select the “CC the message to people or distribution list” under “Step 1: Select action.”  
  • Click “People or distribution lists” under “Step 2: Edit the rule description.”  
  • Double-click contacts from your address book or type an email address under “To.” Separate multiple addresses with semicolons. Click OK. Click Next. Click Next again. Click Finish. Click OK.

3. Using Outlook’s Calendar to send meeting invitations

Deposition dates, interviews with expert witnesses, client meetings and settlement conferences are just of a few of the appointments lawyers must attend. Forgetting about one could constitute a time waster — or a disaster.

“Missing important dates can land you in hot water quickly,” Bickel says. “By using the invitation tool in Outlook’s calendar, you can reduce the chances you’ll forget about an upcoming appointment.”

To send invitations and have them automatically added to your calendar:

  • Select the date for your event on the calendar in the top right of the window. Double-click the date. 
  • Select and highlight the time for your event on the date appearing in the right window of your screen. Double-click that time.
  • Enter the subject of the event. Enter a location for the event. Enter the starting and ending times for the event.  After you have entered this information in the top right section of this window, click Invite Attendees.
How to schedule an appointment in Outlook
  • Enter the email addresses of those you wish to invite and any other information (time, room where meeting with happen, directions, etc.). Click Send. 
  • As your invitees accept your event, it will automatically appear and be scheduled not only on your calendar but also on theirs.
Inviting appointment attendees in Outlook

Of course, there are many more organizational and productivity-boosting uses of Outlook for lawyers. Have a favorite? Let us know.

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