The Covid-19 global health pandemic proved that our ability to communicate electronically is more important than ever. Whether it be through desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, or apps, electronic communications are here to stay.
Recent studies show the average worker receives more than 120 emails per day and spends 2 to 3 hours each day reading and responding to email. It is how business is generated and problems are solved.
But one of the biggest complaints about emails and electronic communications is these tools are a culprit of wasted time. Finding, sorting, and organizing emails can be a daunting task, taking away valuable time and resources from more fruitful endeavors. When we see those messages in our inbox marked “unread”, it triggers a psychological reaction, detracting us from our current task, resulting in a rushed response, generating more back and forth emails cluttering one’s inbox even further, and resulting in even more wasted time.
This article addresses how community association managers and boards can better communicate with legal counsel via electronic means to increase efficiency and reduce misunderstandings, which will help control legal time and costs.
Use the “subject” line to clearly identify the matter. Managers and legal counsel may be working on multiple matters for multiple associations at one time. So, when sending an email, the header should clearly state the association and the matter the message is pertaining to, such as “RE: Very Important Association – Pool Contract.” This will help make categorizing and searching for messages easier, which can save time.
Make your signature line useful. Your email signature line should contain your name, company or association, phone number, address and email for every message and reply so that someone can find your contact information very easily and also share it with someone else through forwarding. With so many people working remotely due to the pandemic, your signature line should also state the best ways to reach you (cell phone number, for example).
Provide all of the details. Legal counsel will be able to provide the best legal advice when provided all of the facts. Compare these two messages: “Can you write this owner a violation letter?” versus “Please write violation letter for the owner located at 123 Main Street for American HOA. The owner’s name is Mr. Jack Violator. Attached are the prior citations that were issued, along with pictures of the violations. I am also including our most up-to-date architectural standards in case you do not have a copy.” The attorney receiving the latter message will be able to cut down on back-and-forth communication with the manager or board member because the key information has been provided up front.
Follow-up. Sometimes lawyers provide work product to association clients but then don’t know what happens after hitting “send”. Managers and boards should keep legal counsel apprised of matters brought to legal counsel’s attention. For example, if legal counsel prepared a policy resolution for the board’s adoption, send an executed copy to legal counsel for its records to cut down on legal counsel’s follow up.
Provide leeway. Of course, we cannot control the importance of every matter, but attempt to give legal counsel as much time as possible to review and respond to your message. Managers and boards should not presume that every message is capable being responded to simply or easily, as even what seems like a quick question may require a more thought-out, researched response.
Know when to pick up the phone. If you find yourself getting into a continued back and forth over email or text, it may be time to pick up the phone and talk through the issues. One of the problems with email, IMs and texts is that those platforms do not allow for nuanced conversation. It is difficult to read someone’s tone in a message. A phone call is a better way to sort out confusion because it allows for a contemporaneous discussion.
Take a “bottom to top” approach. If you are replying to a long conversation thread, pull up the key information to the top of the reply. This will make it easier for the next reader to quickly put your reply in context and understand what you are communicating. Also, if you are creating a longer e-mail with multiple items, consider numbering your items to make them easier to read and respond to.
Write deliberately. There is so much pressure in our industry to respond to messages promptly. But promptly does not mean “right this second.” Take time to write a full complete message, as opposed to a few short words or simple texts. This will also help to cut down on confusion. Remember that the more emails you send, the more you are going to get.
Be mindful of your message. Your emails may be going into a client file or archive that another manager or Board member may refer to in the future. Make sure your communication makes sense to someone who is looking at the thread for the first time.
By Leslie Brown, ESQ.
Leslie is a shareholder with Rees Broome, PC where she represents community associations, businesses, and non-profits in the Washington D.C. metro area. She was elected to the Chapter’s board of directors in 2019. Previously, she served as WMCCAI’s Communications Council Chair and Co-Chair of the Quorum Editorial Committee.