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Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013 technology  research  practice

A Technology Tip

  • Technology

Email is a primary means of communication for most lawyers. It is a fantastic tool. You can easily and almost instantly communicate across the globe with your client and other people involved in a legal matter. You can send different types of attachments. And if you have a smartphone, you can send and reply to emails from just about anywhere on the face of the planet (assuming you have wireless or internet access).
But email can be dangerous – and one of the most dangerous features is blind carbon copy or BCC. I will assume everyone knows what BCC is and how it works.MB900387752
Now, there is no doubt, there can be very legitimate reasons for sending a message using BCC. From time to time you will want to inform someone that a particular message was sent, but not include them in the main email conversation or to let people getting the message know that someone else got it as well. This is the very essence of what BCC is and does. However, a problem arises when the person getting the BCC message sends a reply-all message not realizing they got the original email on a BCC-basis. Oops! Cover blown! Everyone now knows someone else got the message. In the very least this is probably embarrassing to the sender, it probably means there will be an unhappy client and it could lead to a malpractice claim.
So how do you avoid using BCC and still “BCC” someone on a message? Easy – just go into your Sent folder and forward the relevant message. From an etiquette point of view, nice to include add an “FYI” or add a short explanation for the person getting the message. Forwarding the sent message will keep the BCC person informed, and if they send a reply, will ensure it will only come back to you.
Thus, as a general rule, lawyers should avoid using BCC. However, there are always a few exceptions to general rules. You should use use BCC if you need to make sure people receiving the message don’t see the email addresses of others that received it. For example, when you send an email newsletter to firm clients. In this case, include a firm address in the To: field, and client names in the BCC field.
And I saw another good where BCC is a must last week. A lawyer had his AOL email account hacked (via typical phishing message tricked him into disclosing his login name and password). He used the email account for his practice and it was full of sensitive and confidential client information. With the help of AOL he was successful in recovering control of the account. However, he sent a message to everyone in his contact list telling them his account had been compromised. This was a good thing to do, but unfortunately, the names of all his clients were disclosed as he put their email addresses in the To: field. It would have been much better to use BCC which would have hidden all the clients’ names from each other.
There you have it: don’t use BCC, unless you need to keep the identity of people receiving the message confidential.

One comment on Lawyers Should (Almost) Never Use BCC

  1. John G says:

    Some email programs do not allow bcc: recipients to Reply to All (they can try, but the message does not go to all – for obvious reasons.) That seems like a sensible design feature for any email system, at least as a default setting. If the person bcc’d wants to blow his/her cover, then that should be possible.

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