While social media and text messaging have gained popularity with the masses, email is still the foundational way that lawyers communicate with clients. Email is a private and flexible communication tool accessible to everyone, but are you getting the most out of your law firm email management, especially if you’re using Microsoft Outlook? Let’s take a look at a few powerful Microsoft Outlook tips and tricks that lawyers can use to increase their productivity and communicate effectively.
All lawyers work long hours but is it really wise to send emails “time stamped” 1am or 3am? Probably not. You don’t want to give clients the impression that you’re available at all times of the night, so scheduling emails gives you the flexibility to send an email at anytime but have it delivered within reasonable hours. Use the “Delay Delivery” feature under the Options tab of the email message to schedule the send time.
Here are just a few benefits of scheduling emails:
- Emails can be scheduled to arrive when they will most likely be opened. Not many clients are available at 2am on a Saturday.
- You avoid giving the impression that you expect the recipient to respond on a weekend or in the dead of the night. If you’re sending another lawyer a message, you don’t want to give the impression you want them to respond on a Sunday at noon, so scheduling the email will allow you to control the send time.
- You can send a message when you’re ready to have the “conversation.” For example, you probably don’t want to start an email exchange right before you have dinner with your family. Scheduling helps you avoid getting sucked into an email thread at an inconvenient time.
Another great Outlook email tip is to flag outgoing and incoming emails for followup. Flags make it easy to add email messages to your to-do list. You can easily set scheduled reminders and a flag message that can be customized. For example, you might have a flag on an email that tells you to call a client next Wednesday at 10am. Assigning specific colors to your flags will make it easy to figure out what flags you have at a glance. Flags are most beneficial when you have outgoing or incoming messages attached to time-sensitive tasks. For example, if you need a client to give you some documents by a certain day, using a flag will remind you to reach out to them again if they don’t reach out to you first. Flags can be found in Outlook under the Tags tab in the Home menu.
Organize Your Inbox with Rules
Use Outlook rules to automatically decide how certain emails are handled as soon as they are received. You can find the “rules” feature under the File tab in Manage Rules and Alerts. This is where rules can be created, edited, and deleted. Rules allow you to automate actions you want to take on an email. For example, you could tell Outlook to put all emails from a certain sender into a special folder. You could also tell Outlook to pin or flag certain emails so that they’re more noticeable. Lawyers who know how to use rules can easily manage their inbox in an automated way so that they’re only handling email of the most importance on a daily basis.
When using Smokeball and Microsoft Outlook, all of your email communications are automatically saved to the matter, so items are saved and organized both in Outlook and in your legal practice management software.
Leverage Canned Messages
Do you find yourself receiving the same questions from several different people daily? If so, you may want to create canned responses by using Microsoft Outlook’s Quick Parts feature. Quick Parts lets you create boilerplate text that you can insert quickly into your email responses to clients. Just select the text you want to save, go to Insert, Quick Parts and save in the Quick Parts Gallery. Using canned messages makes it easy to respond to repetitive messages and saves on time spent sending emails.
Make Email Calendar Appointments
A great Microsoft Outlook calendar tip is if you’ve received an email about an event or appointment, you don’t need to manually create a calendar appointment. Just drag the email to your Outlook calendar and the appointment will be automatically generated. Outlook will even save the body of the email in the Notes section. You can manually edit the calendar appointment as you would normally. And with Smokeball legal calendaring software, these calendar appointments will be saved in your case management software and be linked to the matter and individual contact.
Alternatively, you can automatically accept calendar appointments. Go to your Calendar Options menu and accept automatic appointments. This is especially helpful if you rarely receive unwanted appointment requests.
Learn Keyboard Shortcuts
Below are a few of the most commonly used keyboard shortcuts for Windows and are great MS Outlooks tips:
- Compose New Email: Ctrl + N (Windows)
- Send: Ctrl + Enter (Windows)
- Reply to Sender: Ctrl + R (Windows)
- Delete: Ctrl + D (Windows)
- Flag for Follow Up: Ctrl + Shift + G (Windows)
Create a Signature
Outlook allows you to create a signature that will appear in the footer of every email you send. Just create a new message, click on Signature, New, label your signature, and then create the signature you want. Signatures are fully customizable—you can control the font, color, size, and justification of your signature. You can also create different kinds of signatures for different kinds of messages. You can decide whether you want to include a signature on replies and forwards, and you can include your law firm logo on each signature.
Adjust Your Reminders
Outlook automatically adds reminders to your calendar appointments, but you may want to make some adjustments to make sure the reminders are serving your needs. Is 15 minutes (the Outlook default) really enough of a reminder for you to get ready for an appointment? If not you might want to create reminders that give you the notification time you need. You can even change the default so that it gives you 30 minutes or even a few hours notification before a meeting.
Reminders are important in combination with other Outlook features because they serve as a nudge to make you take action. It’s easy to set calendar appointments that are later forgotten but with a reminder that pops up on your phone or desktop, it will be difficult to forget that you have some other task to do.
We hope these Microsoft Outlook tips and tricks will help you at your firm! MS Outlook is a powerful tool for managing your emails, and combined with Smokeball, it can truly streamline and automate client communication. For lawyers who leverage some of its most powerful features, it can really save time and improve effectiveness and productivity.
Schedule a customized demo of Smokeball to see how our Microsoft Outlook and Word integrations can take your practice to new levels of success!