Popehat Poll: How Irrritating Is It For A Lawyer Not To Have A Listed Email Address?

I was thinking of writing an email seeking comment from a lawyer who threatened someone. But despite being a lawyer who threatens people with lawsuits (by phone), this lawyer doesn't seem to have a web site, and doesn't seem to have an email listed anywhere publicly. It's not on her State Bar profile, not on any of the various referral or rating sites, not anywhere easily accessible.1

This irritates me. I recognize that I am well behind the curve on technology. I recognize that my firm's web site was just a static under-construction placeholder with contact information for years. But when a lawyer makes it difficult for me to find their email address, I am immediately suspicious and annoyed.

So. How obnoxiously snobbish is that?

  1. Fortunately I have tricks: I logged onto PACER, looked for cases in which she is the attorney of record, and pulled her email address from a docket, where you can find it because she's required to list it on pleadings. She has an AOL email address.  

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. says

    Once I went solo, I had my own website with a fillable contact form and a new email address and my direct cell phone number. The ONLY people who called me were insane solo inventors with horrible ideas who would be more likely to sue me than pay me and boy did they contact me often. So I kept my domain but it's a blank page and I'm so much happier. My email is not public unless you go onto LinkedIn or are referred to me or you have an old business card. Of course… my nastygrams aren't the kind that would attract your attention. That's why I voted "Eh,…"

  2. Tim says

    The lawyers I know who do not have publicly available email are plaintiffs' personal injury lawyers who don't want to communicate with their clients because it's bothersome. '

  3. Eric R. says

    She still has an AOL email address? No wonder she doesn't list it. The poor, poor woman!

  4. ketchup says

    I voted "lots of perfectly good lawyers don't have email".
    My uncle is an attorney, and he refuses to have an email address because it is such an insecure means of communication. He does not trust his clients to keep from sending him confidential information via email, and he knows that once information is in an email, it has the potential to be broadcast to the world. One accidental "reply all" could be disastrous in some cases.
    Of course Snowden provides a whole other set of reasons for avoiding legal use of email.

  5. jdgalt says

    I would want any lawyer of mine to be too careful ever to conduct a business conversation over unencrypted e-mail.

    Of course, a really tech-savvy lawyer would have an https: web form, one that avoids any of the common security mistakes discussed on troyhunt.com.

    I'm not there yet either.

  6. Myk says

    Trick question; even having an email address doesn't guarantee you'll be contactable (I'm looking at you, John L Steele).

  7. Renee Jones says

    Some people just aren't email people. Some people like voice phones. Some insist on texting. Others like skype or IM or email. A lot of people are flexible, but some are only comfortable with one form of communication. It is all ok. Let people be themselves.

  8. Frank Rizzo says

    This polls all fucked up. I left my answer in the other box and can't see the damn thing. So now I have to type that sh*t all over again?

    "What's this new email thing I keep hearing about. Should I have one? "


  9. says

    Og dislike act of Thag, and made cave painting depicting criticism of Thag's act, but Thag not come to cave to see Og paint. Og butthurt at Thag, Og paint more.

  10. Paul E. "Marbux" Merrell says

    Given: [i] the lawyer's duty of confidentiality owed to the client; and [ii] thew fact that the NSA is cloning, collecting, and searching all email and phone calls, I question whether any client business can be conducted by email or telephone without violating the Bar disciplinary rules.

  11. D1ll says

    I think the necessity of email applies to all professions these days (and probably has for at least 5 years). In my experience, the Luddites in the legal field tend to be very old solo practitioners who don't have irritated partners harping on them or associates to wrangle. Further, nonuse of email is tends to be one of several related annoying traits that have a high likelihood of coincidence.

  12. Bun and Cheese says

    Heavens to Mergatroid. AOL? lol.

    Go home, AOL. The Neighborhood of Make Believe wants its Mr. McFeely back.

  13. says

    I can understand where she is coming from, having worked as a discovery clerk about 7 years ago when several public defenders were being harrased via every means possible in my town. However, to be competitive it is a good idea to have an easily discoverable email address, at least. Doesn't have to be tied to personal information, but your business information is already out there. And though I understand where she may be coming from, it still raises red flags about her legitimacy. It seems the modern equivalent of hiring a lawyer out of the back of a car at a truck stop. More than a few red flags are flying.

  14. John Hawkinson says

    > I am difficult and insist on leaving a different answer in the comments. – 5% ( 11 votes )

    I think it's OK for lawyers to not publish an email address in an easy-to-find place, but still have one. Because if it is easy for non-lawyers to find, they can get a lot of junk mail. In my experience, the harder to find someone's email address is, the more likely they are to respond to emails. Perhaps unfortunate but true.

    If they practice in the federal courts, you can look it up in PACER/ECF, as you note in your footnote. And if they practice in state courts, depending on your state, there may be a suitable equivalent (I don't know about California).

  15. Cassius says

    If it were me, the decision not to publish an email/website would be strategic: To force people to contact me via phone (no record) or mail (slow).

  16. babaganusz says

    Ken, you are one of the most sufferable snobs i have ever "encountered". other than that, my answer is a balance of the first and second options. and ketchup's uncle* makes a lot of sense.

    also, Myk's entry deserves a gold cookie.

    *dibs on the band name "Ketchup's Uncle".

  17. says

    I am surprised that any lawyer _does_ list a professional email address most of the time. None of these recent governmental disclosure surprise me in any way and email, unless it is encrypted, is essentially shouting in the market square. There is no expectation of privacy in the protocols given that they are all plain text and invariably pass over networks belonging to wholly unrelated parties.

    Our attempts to get people to start encrypt things by default fell on deaf ears more than a decade ago. [See RFC-4322 Opportunistic Encryption and its ilk, which everyone ignored…]

    It's almost irresponsible for any privileged communications to pass over the web or via email, and just forget webhosted-email such as gmail/google who make their money from reading your email to tailor their ads to your account.

    Now I am not going to infer that this person without email made this choice because of his acute awareness of the public nature of email, but I am kind of surprised that various bar associations never really got out in front of that whole public disclosure to random strangers thing.

    Think I am wearing an tinfoil hat over this? Not so…


    But yea, if everybody is going to do it, it's kind of annoying to run into someone who wont.

  18. OngChotwI says

    From discussions with local lawyers in '96, they had 1. personal email. 2. direct business email. 3. public business email that was sorted to the correct lawyer by the office manager.

    While faxed documents are more secure than PDFs – faxed documents were always incredibly grainy. To use a Fax nowadays, don't you have to type the document on a manual typewriter?

  19. says

    The real question shouldn't be whether they have email or not but instead if they have email do they actually bloody well read it or even answer it the snobs!!!!

    Though admittedly if they do respond it's normally in some arcane language where you need a "Diploma in Magick" to decipher it ;)

  20. George William Herbert says

    Marbux wrote:
    Given: [i] the lawyer's duty of confidentiality owed to the client; and [ii] thew fact that the NSA is cloning, collecting, and searching all email and phone calls, I question whether any client business can be conducted by email or telephone without violating the Bar disciplinary rules.

    Has this been addressed by legal professionals in depth anywhere following Snowdengate?

    That analysis may not be correct – attorneys can use telephones, and the government has with warrants tapped phones before. And rooms in buildings, with attorneys not required to sweep for bugs.

    But pervasive surveillance is something else. Some criminal defense attorneys in federal cases could have a very interesting problem AND interesting argument to the judge regarding their ability to represent their client … Ken, this is up your alley, right?

  21. Mercury says

    * Other

    The plaintiff attorney on a BS class action case which was birthed into existence for the sole benefit of enriching lawyers. You think of me as an aggrieved party peon who should be happy with the $7.26 you’ll throw my way a year after I fill out this 17 page form that looks like the assembly directions to a 1970’s era Barbie’s Dreamhouse.

  22. Melissa says

    This isn't about tech snobbery. This is about respecting people's time. This lawyer may only give their contact information to people they are interested in having talk to them, and that's quite reasonably their call. You don't have a right to someone else's time.

    I am definitely an email user – I generally check several times an hour, just out of habit – but I keep my cell phone on silent for a similar reason.

  23. barry says

    Did people ever send postcards to their lawyers? Is it any more annoying for a lawyer not to have a have a public pgp key?

  24. Bob Brown says

    I have a friend who was involved in a fairly nasty contract dispute in the Federal courts. Unhappily the other party "came into possession of" email between my friend and his lawyer. Happily, the other party was dumb enough to file one such email message as an exhibit. Even more happily, the other party ended up taking the Fifth when the judge started asking questions.

    I second Barry's suggestion that every lawyer should publish encryption keys. I've written a tutorial (link below) that's suitable for individual use. For corporate use, buy the PGP add-on suitable to your corporate email system.

    Link: http://bitmonger.blogspot.com/2013/05/its-time-to-encrypt-your-email.html

  25. Jesse from Tulsa says

    I'm not sure if I have a publicly listed email or not. It is listed with the Bar Association. You can contact me via our website (which sends me an email). But when we have listed emails on our website we have been over run by crap emails selling marketing stuff or scamming fake new clients.

    My clients have a business card. My adversaries have my signature block. The Court, the Bar, and others i do business with know how to contact me. Potential new clients can call or contact via the web.

    Posting my email just allows "others" to contact me, which isn't adding value to my practice.

  26. Miles Archer says

    I email my doctor. I email my congressman. I email in house lawyers where I work. If I needed an outside lawyer, I would want one I could contact directly.

  27. jeremy7600 says

    I notice a lot of comments discussing email to lawyers in the context of confidential business. I see Ken posing this as someone who was seeking a comment. This isn't something that necessitates a phone call, at the outset. In response the person may want to contact Ken directly by phone to discuss the matter he is seeking comment about, but as an initial inquiry, doing it via email is probably the most appropriate.

    Talking about a right to peoples time, I think the fact that he wanted to email this person instead of calling her, shows he respects the right to her own time. Emails (and txts and tweets for that matter) can be read and responded to at the convenience of the recipient. Sometimes, people answer their phone as a matter of course, others let unknown calls go to voicemail. Rather than potentially take time out of this womans day she may not have had the time he might have called her, he wanted (and did, eventually) to send her an email that she could respond to, at her convenience.

    Naturally, I don't know Kens actual thoughts or intentions, but this is how I look at it.

  28. FitzJames says

    I think the question that arises from the Gmail controversy as regards to communication with a lawyer is not the portion "a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy…" but rather the last part of the sentence, "information he voluntarily turns over to third parties" It is my admittedly limited legal knowledge that as soon as you involve a third party communications with a lawyer are not confidential. If I am correct that seems to be the dangerous interpretation of using email.

  29. ketchup says

    @jeremy7600, "I notice a lot of comments discussing email to lawyers in the context of confidential business. I see Ken posing this as someone who was seeking a comment. "

    My point, or rather my uncle's, is that while the attorney with the email address may trust him/herself enough not to send confidential information via email, it is an entirely different matter to trust that your clients will be so careful. If you have a published email address, nothing keeps clients or prospective clients from sending you confidential information via email. Nothing prevents those same clients from accidentally sending said information to the wrong person, or for that information to be snooped on by the NSA.

  30. Piper says

    Someone who probably doesn't want to be contacted by someone who can't spell snobbery? Grammar Nazi snobbery here ;)

  31. Manatee says

    If you're a corporate compliance lawyer, a patent prosecutor, or anything else where all of the people you deal with essentially had to opt in at some point and most likely have your e-mail address as part of your correspondence to them or filings, it's a much lesser sin.

    If you're the type of lawyer that sends threatening phone calls, injects yourself into public controversies, and basically make yourself annoying relevant to a bunch of people who never "opted in" to interacting with you, then you had better make yourself easy to contact.

    To paraphrase Chris Rock, if you make them chase you, they're bringing an ass kicking with them.

  32. Ms. Cats Meow says

    I am difficult and insist on leaving a different answer in the comments.


  33. ElamBend says

    in the mid-aughts i was a project manager at a real estate developer. On two separate condominium projects we had different closing teams. One was a man in his late 60s/early 70s. He had no email and his letterhead still gave a number for telefacsimile. He had one assistant who answered the phones. The other team was a couple of associates and a paralegal from a Big Law firm. They had email of course.

    You can probably guess where this is heading. I never heard from the older guy unless it absolutely required my action (pay X municipality some fee so we can close). The Big Law team would inundate my email in-box with every trivial issue (cc'ing me and the world). I learned to only read these emails at the end of the day, starting with the most recent and reading down the chain. Invariably, the problem had worked itself out. Only rarely would it require my input.

    huh, seems like a lifetime ago.

  34. Nat Gertler says

    Lawyers who do not have public email addresses spend a lot less time negotiating for ponies that never arrive.

  35. James Pollock says

    "It is my admittedly limited legal knowledge that as soon as you involve a third party communications with a lawyer are not confidential."
    There has to be a person involved. Telephone calls involve a third-party (the phone company) but do not destroy privilege unless it is known that a person is listening. Google automatically reads messages, but as a general rule, people are not actually involved in the process.

  36. Peter H says

    I work in patent law, and we are careful not to put an email address out in public. The reason is that people would email us their inventions, which we would then become responsible for maintaining the privacy of, including going so far as to have to refuse future work if someone else came in with the same thing. If you call we'll be happy to answer your question, but I don't want to be given unsolicited (and unpaid) disclosures.

  37. Sami says

    My only experience with retaining the services of a lawyer were in a personal-injury case, but my lawyer's office still had an e-mail address. As I recall, the few e-mail communications I had were handled by the minion (associate? paralegal? I have no idea) who seemed to be doing all the preparatory paperwork stuff for my case.

    I don't really understand the "one misplaced reply-to-all" argument against using e-mail. If you don't want someone to be included in the replies to something, don't CC them in the first place; either contact them separately or use BCC.

  38. Carl 'SAI' Mitchell says

    Any lawyer that uses unencrypted e-mail for client communications is incompetent. Worse are the ones that include a scary-sounding notice not to copy the e-mail if you're not the intended recipient. If my lawyer can't figure out how to get and use an S/MIME certificate or GPG I can find another lawyer.

  39. James Pollock says

    On the question of whether or not lawyers, as a class, are quick to adopt new technology, I have one (sort of) word… WordPerfect.

  40. barry says

    Telephone calls involve a third-party (the phone company) but do not destroy privilege unless it is known that a person is listening.

    This was solved for written letters passing through third fourth and nth parties with the invention of sealed envelopes, and before that, actual wax seals. It took a little more time and skill to seal, but people generally found the confidentiality payoff worthwhile. Maybe not as much fun as railing against message deliverers reading their correspondence, but more effective.

    Enough people did it that sealed envelopes were not looked on as 'suspicious'. But that may have been a different time, when people either wanted or expected confidentiality and/or privacy in their communications.

  41. James Pollock says

    "This was solved for written letters passing through third fourth and nth parties with the invention of sealed envelopes"

    It was unsolved and remains so shortly thereafter, with the invention of unsealing and re-sealing envelopes. PKI offers a solution for electronic communications, but it is both expensive and complicated, things which are not necessary for the vast majority of email communications.

  42. Josh C says

    Butterick's book on typography explains that good typography is whatever serves your purpose and your clients' interests. For example: fine print or all caps are much harder to read, and generally do a poor job of conveying information. If that's what you're trying to do though, you actually should use them.

    Similarly, being hard to contact seems like a bad idea generally, but quite possibly a good idea in specific cases.

  43. AlphaCentauri says

    I'm not a lawyer, but a public email address will be picked up by spammers within a few days. Your inbox will then be so full of crap you'll be missing valid emails due to spam filtering, or else you won't have time to check your email frequently. It's irresponsible to offer to accept emails if you aren't going to check them frequently or if they're likely to go unread in the spam folder.

    A website with a response form solves several problems: You can insist they read a privacy policy that explains anything they send you will be sent via email and should not be anything they wouldn't send via post card (or, given the number of people using corporate email addresses for private communications, it shouldn't be something they wouldn't post on their boss's office door). And you can have the form entry sent to a specific email address that will mark anything that doesn't come from the web form as spam.

    Once you know the person is a valid contact, you can whitelist their emails address and provide your secure email address/public key for further communications.

  44. says

    Not having an email address available anywhere means you want to be difficult to contact, and to have a excuse to spend two weeks or more replying to communications.

    Moreover, the lawyers who don't have email are also the lawyers who invariably want to do everything by way of a phone call — thereby leaving no paper trail. Every time I've encountered one of those lawyers, they've always tried to pull some stupid trick on me, e.g. lying about prior conversations.

    To give another example, in mass torts MDLs, when the corporations waive service for complaints, the court orders service by email. In an MDL, everyone's too busy for letters and phone calls — just send it all in by email.

  45. David says

    I knew some lawyers who of course had e-mail and communicated with clients by e-mail, but did not want unsolicited e-mails from non-clients with all sorts of information that should only be disclosed once accepted as a client. They watned initial contact to be by phone to set up an appointment (or I supposed if there were a reason they would give the e-mail address).

    Agree or not, that seemed to me to be at least facially reasonable.

  46. Richard Gadsden says

    In a large firm, they might well prefer unsolicited contact to go to a generic address which then goes to a business development minion who can find the appropriate lawyer for the new client, rather than publishing email addresses for every lawyer and letting the potential client guess (almost certainly wrongly) which lawyer is right for them.

  47. R R Clark says

    A bit late, but it's been my experience that lawyers whose websites are static placeholders with contact information tend to be very, very good at their job. So don't feel too bad about it. I definitely wouldn't hire a lawyer with a flashy website. Particularly one that's obviously built from a pre-fab kit.