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Don’t let e-mail mistakes kill your attorney/client privilege

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in Human Resources

Issue: Protect your right to keep communications between the organization and its attorney secret.

Risk: By misdirecting e-mail messages meant for your attorney, you can wipe out that attorney/client privilege.

Action: Revamp your "confidentiality" message on e-mails and educate employees on legally safe e-mail usage.

Communication with your attorney is protected by law. But, if you or another employee misdirects one of those e-mails to a third party, that action wipes out your attorney/client privilege. One careless "forward" or "reply all" could spell legal disaster.

To better safeguard information sent to your attorney, follow these four steps:

1. Label "confidential" above the message. Put a header, not a note at the bottom, on all privileged and confidential e-mail. It should specify that the message is "privileged, confidential, protected communication, intended for the recipient only and should be deleted if received by anyone other than the addressee."

Although such a note may not ensure confidentiality, it at least gives notice that you intend to protect the contents.

2. Encrypt key messages. Always use encryption for sensitive communication.

3. Educate employees. Employees need to recognize e-mail has a much greater "broadcast potential" than letters or faxes. Instruct employees, even senior execs, on proper precautions, such as flagging messages that shouldn't be shared. Remind employees that anything they write via e-mail could someday appear in court.

4. Consult your lawyer. If your attorney doesn't bring up the issue, you should. Decide on a preferred communication method. For the most confidential situations, meet in person.

For tips to help cut your time spent on e-mail, access our free report, Improve Your E-mail Efficiency, at www

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