Law firms are no different from other businesses where out-of-office automatic replies have become commonplace. Those not familiar with out-of-office replies are automatic responses to an email statement to the sender that the recipient is currently away.
Out-of-office automatic replies certainly serve a purpose, and they were handy when emails could only be seen from computers. However, this meant that people on the go couldn’t check their emails often. Now, we all have instant access to our emails from wherever we are, and most people make a habit of checking them regularly. However, that does not mean they have no place in the legal office of today.
Before activating an out-of-office reply, there are several things to consider. First, they can be somewhat annoying to people who may need to send several emails, only to be bombarded with numerous out-of-office replies.
Balancing the benefits from the annoyance of out-of-office replies should not be too hard if you consider a few things before activating them. Here are some of the most common mistakes law firms make:
1. Setting an out-of-office reply when not necessary
There are moments when every lawyer needs to establish some boundaries between their work and personal life. Getting off the grid is becoming ever more difficult as new technologies in communications make everyone available all the time. People find it extremely hard to switch off and not read or respond to work-related messages, even on holiday.
When determining whether to set an out-of-office automatic reply, consider the length of time you will be absent. For example, if you are planning to be away from the office for a few hours, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to see and respond to your emails later in the day. Therefore, there is no reason to send an out-of-office response to an email.
2. Not including a reason for your absence
When you need an out-of-office reply, remember to include a reason for your absence. Clients and colleagues appreciate this, and if you are on vacation, they will resist the temptation of trying to reach you by phone.
Don’t be too casual, and don’t be tempted to brag. This can sound disrespectful and be misinterpreted by potential clients. Instead, make the message short and professional.
3. Forgetting to include the dates you are unavailable
In your message, include the precise dates of your absence from the office. By having your return date and a reminder for them to contact you then, you are making sure that their email doesn’t get lost in the significant number of messages awaiting your attention on your return.
Additionally, communicate any delayed response rates you may have on your return to the office.
4. Not providing the contact information for someone else
Some of your clients might be contacting you for an emergency, so make sure to include the name, telephone, and email address of a colleague they can reach. It is almost certain you will choose a secondary contact that you respect and work well with, but make sure that the person has agreed to stand in for you. If your colleague is unaware that you have given their contact details, they may not notice an important message from one of your clients.
You can also provide your number for urgent cases if you don’t mind being disturbed, but know that some people have a different understanding of what “urgent” constitutes.
5. Grammar and spelling mistakes
It is unacceptable to make grammar or spelling mistakes on an out-of-office reply, so don’t hastily sit to write one a few seconds before leaving. Once you have written your out-of-office message, proofread it at least twice. Ensure that whoever reads your message – your boss, the CEO of a company, or an important client – is left with the best impressions.
Out-of-office replies are still valuable for law firms, but only if they are thoughtful and efficient. Finally, remember to turn them off on your return.