Lawyers sometimes allow legalese to infect their writing—even their email signatures.
Setting aside the implications* of this sort of email signature, I wanted to make a suggestion to all lawyers out there: please remove the obfuscating legalese from your “do not read this” email signature notes.
Here’s an example:
IMPORTANT: This email transmission, including any attachment, has been sent by or on behalf of a lawyer or law firm and is intended only for the use of the individual or entity to which it is addressed. It may contain information that is privileged, confidential and exempt from disclosure under applicable law. If the reader of this communication is not the intended recipient, or the employee or agency responsible for delivering the communication to the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination, distribution or copying of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please notify me immediately by email or telephone and delete this communication and all copies. Thank you.
This message not only alienates its readers, making it less likely that they will do what you ask, it also confuses them, making it even less likely that they will do what you ask.
Seriously, “email transmission”? What’s wrong with “email”?
“By or on behalf of a lawyer or law firm”? Don’t law firms include lawyers? Can’t we just scratch that part?
“[U]se of the individual or entity to which it is addressed”? How about “use of the addressee”?
What exactly does “exempt from disclosure” mean? Do it mean anything different from “confidential” or “privileged”?
Why must we specify “applicable law”? Isn’t “under law” good enough?
The above email signature–which I’ve seen in exactly this form hundreds of times–is terrible. So, I’m going to do a public service and revise it using Plain English, and suggest that all my lawyer friends use the following signature instead:
IMPORTANT: This email, including any attachments, comes from a lawyer. It should only be read by the intended recipient, because this email may contain information that is privileged or confidential under law. Therefore, if you are not the intended recipient, please do not distribute this email, for that might be against the law. If you have received this email in error, please notify me immediately by email or telephone and delete this email. Thank you very much, and I apologize for the trouble I may have caused.
How about you? Can you make it even better? Better = less cloudy and more likely to have the intended effect on its audience.
(*The implications of course, include these: the lawyer screwed up an email address; the lawyer didn’t proofread the email and sent it to the wrong person; the lawyer was gulled into giving up his/her email password by phishers. Hence the apology at the end of the revised signature.)