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The Cost of Email
May 25, 2015

Email technology has revolutionized how we communicate with one another. Back in the day, we would write letters, make phone calls, and send the occasional telegram. We chose between connecting in real time on the phone, or waiting long periods of time while letters were delivered. Facsimile transmission, now known as “fax,” allowed instant delivery of letters. But we still had to write the letter. Consequently, the time it took us to write the letter was the same; only delivery was faster.

With email, we can shoot off a written communication as quickly as we can type it in. I still write letters when I want the formality of the letter to have an impact. But much of my written communication these days is by email. I email with other attorneys, with court clerks (although not judges), and with clients.

While I can type very fast, it still takes me longer to convey a simple message by email then by speaking. When the message is somewhat “one-way,” email often saves time compared to the process of arranging a spoken conversation. But when the email communication devolves into a conversation with email going back and forth, email can be a terrific time-waster.

Like every good attorney, I feel I must respond to clients as soon as I can. When a client sends me an email, I endeavor to respond the same day, even if that response is a short acknowledgment of receipt of the client’s email and a promise to respond more fully later. When I can respond fully and immediately after reading the email, I tend to do so. Although I sometimes will attempt to reach the client on the phone, or will suggest in an emailed reply that the client call to arrange a time to talk, doing so often delays my response. So I am hesitant to do so.

The result can be a higher bill for the client. While I often do not bill a client for a quick response by email, especially when that response is administrative rather than containing legal advice, I do bill for the aggregate time to have an email conversation.

Often, clients can save money by arranging to speak with me on the phone. A client might call to see if I am available, and if I am not, to arrange a time to talk when the client and I are both free.

Consequently, clients who are concerned with the attorney bill should consider calling rather than engaging in email. There is a trade-off between the convenience of email and the cost of an emailed conversation. A quick question in email can save time, and therefore money. But email should not be used as a substitute for a good spoken conversation.


This website provides general information to the public on legal issues. These informational materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You should contact Brandli Law for advice on specific legal problems.

Brandli Law PLLC * PO Box 850, Friday Harbor, WA 98250 * (360) 378-5544