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Can an E-Mail Address Make a Negative Impression?

Used to be that lawyers worried about the cache that their physical mail address would convey. For example, here in the D.C. area, a "K" Street or Pennsylvania Avenue address carries white-shoe prestige while an address on 5th Street near the D.C. Superior Court house suggests a practicing criminal lawyer or consumer-oriented practice.

But in an Internet age, does a lawyer's e-mail address matter just as much? Doug Cornelius of Compliance Building initiated a recent discussion of the matter with this tweet:

Esquire's Rule #1033. If your lawyer's email address ends in, or (or, find a new lawyer.

Cornelius didn't elaborate on the point (after all, he only had 140 characters), but I suppose that Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail addresses suggest that a lawyer is too cheap or lacking in tech savvy to set up an e-mail account on his own firm's server. In addition, some have raised privacy concerns about Gmail, which would presumably apply to the other services as well. Questions about the confidentiality of a firm's e-mail might be another reason for a client to avoid a lawyer using one of these services.

Still, some lawyers worth hiring do use these types of services, including Scott Greenfield of Simple Justice. Greenfield writes that back in 1993 when he signed up for an AOL e-mail address, he was on the cutting edge (it's true -- I had an e-mail address through University of Maryland, where I taught contract law, in 1994 and it was quite impressive on my business card at a time when large firms weren't using e-mail). Now, that same cool AOL address is dated. But staying trendy isn't enough of a reason to motivate Greenfield to switch:

After some deep contemplation and soul-searching, I've reached a decision. Screw anyone who thinks that my 1993 email address means that I'm not cool enough to be your lawyer. Go find some lawyer whose concern is whether they have the newest iPhone, or the Kindle 39, or doesn't have to google the Urban Dictionary to look up the meaning of the word "choad". So what if I don't text or leave 487 minutes unused on my 500 minute plan.

Call me an anachronism. An old man. A dinosaur. If you're looking for a Dude, you're in the wrong place. I don't hold it against anyone that they are obsessed with the superficial accouterments of coolness and geekdom. Well, maybe I sneer at them a little and think they smell like elderberries, but they're allowed. Just not me.

The e-mail topic also received some discussion on the Solosez listserv. A few participants distinguished between Gmail and other e-mail services, noting that many in the high tech industry routinely use Gmail because of its storage capability and integration with other free and low cost Google products. Thus, in some circles, a Gmail address could be regarded as a sign of tech savvy, the participant pointed out.

So what do you think?  How much does an e-mail address matter for law practice? Would you avoid a service provider who used Gmail, Hotmail or AOL? Send your comments below.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 12, 2009 at 01:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (15)


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