February 2016

The Forum’s Listserve – A Powerful Tool When Used Correctly

By Michael Olinik

The Butler Firm

One useful benefit of being a member of the Forum for Emerging Lawyers is access and use of the Forum’s listserve. The listserve is a valuable tool when you need help from your fellow emerging lawyers as you face an unfamiliar area of law, navigate through a particularly murky procedural question, or wish to share useful information with the other members of the Forum. As a member of the Forum, you have a built-in community of attorneys who can help you through your difficulty, or at least point you to someone who can. Like all activities in the legal profession, though, improper use of the listserve can affect your reputation and reduce the effectiveness of the listserve. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind a few pointers in order to most efficiently use the listserve for your benefit and the benefit of the other members of the Forum.

Any Forum member can utilize the Forum for Emerging Lawyers' listserve by sending an e-mail to sdcbaforum@lists.membercentral.com. The San Diego County Bar Association has established rules for the use of its listserves, which can be found at www.sdcba.org/listserveguidelines. A member of the SDCBA can control listserve settings, and a guide to do so can be found here. As always, you can also contact SDCBA for help with your listserve settings or any other technical help you need.

The Forum’s listserve is meant for newer attorneys. Our community focuses on fostering attorneys just starting out and seeks to help them through the difficultly of applying legal principals in the real world for the first time. All members should feel free to seek help in whatever area they need, no matter how basic the question seems. The Forum’s listserve exists to provide you with the opportunity to ask questions that you feel will not receive helpful responses on other listserves. We were all new attorneys once, and some of us may be forging into new areas of law, needing to relearn everything all over again or litigating in California for the first time. The listserve exists to help guide you through those challenges and utilize the power of the community.

The supportive community, however, is not free license to rattle off any question that comes to you before you have tried to figure out the answer yourself. When I was training to be a high school umpire, a major league umpire gave us his e-mail address and urged us to ask him any questions about the rules of baseball. In writing to him, however, we had to cite to the rule we thought applied and explained what our interpretation of the rule was. That way, he would be able to more efficiently explain our confusion and point us in the right direction or rule. By putting effort into the question asked, he could provide a straightforward, useful answer, and was willing to answer our questions in the future.

Similarly, a detailed question regarding the law is also more likely to receive useful feedback and open the doors to developing relationships with other attorneys. An attorney is more likely to respond to you if you ask a specific question about interrogatories than asking about the interrogatory process in general. If you cite to specific codes of civil procedure, an attorney can help you understand the text of the rule, or help you identify what rule you should be looking at. The members of the listserve will also see that you put effort in trying to figure your problem out, and that goes a long way towards getting attorneys to want to help you.

When using a listserve, you should also be aware of who is receiving your questions and responses. Many of your colleagues are on the listserve, everyone’s time is valuable, and nobody wants to spend all day weeding through hundreds of e-mails. Every so often in the headlines, you see stories about companies who face a “reply all” catastrophe, where a company’s e-mail system is lost with hundreds of e-mails on a chain. When people complain about the chain or ask to be removed, they often use the “reply all” feature, compounding the problem. It is important to decide whether it is more effective to reply to the sender directly, or, if you think what you have to share is valuable to the community as a whole, use the reply all. The originator of the chain can help matters by requesting individual responses only, and send out courtesy e-mails when no further replies are necessary. In the end, reducing the total number of e-mails sent over the listserve increases its efficiency and increases the chance that more people will read your e-mail.

Finally, it is also important to keep in mind that what you post on the listserve does reflect on you personally and professionally. A comment made in jest may not be viewed as such by others, especially given the notorious lack of tone in e-mails. I have noticed that particularly around holiday weekends, members tend to lower their guard on listserves. As with all electronic communications, once you put something out there, it is out there, and you should be mindful of that not only on this listserve, but in your practice every day.

I encourage all members of the Forum to use our Forum’s listserve and the other SDCBA listserves to help you in your practice of law and to foster our emerging lawyer community.  If used responsibly and efficiently, the listserve is a great way to share information and help us all become better lawyers, either through discussing difficult issues of law or by forging new relationships. A listserve is only as effective as its community, and together, we can make a great community.