Legal Practice

Let’s Keep This Between Us: Emails Are Not Private

Emails are not private. I repeat, emails are not private! Most of our firms have policies that allow for management/HR review our emails if they deem it necessary so we don’t have to worry about a wikileaks-like hack, a simple HR squabble can lead to really embarrassing disclosures.

Without discussing the politics and whether or not there was some acts of collusion within the DNC let’s just talk about what the DNC email scandal can teach us about professional growth.


It is so easy to fall into a lull of comfort and believe everything you’re saying is just between you and the receivers. It’s so easy to forget that if a third party were to read your emails they may not get the inside joke; they may not understand that you were venting about an issue, client, or boss because of a particularly bad day. Embarrassing emails can lead to job loss, or at minimum seriously impact your reputation at work. You should avoid venting via email about third parties. In fact, your goal should be to not say things in writing that you can’t say in person because you don’t want to find yourself in awkward position trying to explain away something that may not go over well.  This may seem overly cautious but we’re attorneys, right? Being overly cautious is what makes most of our hearts go pitter-patter.

Many of us also work in areas that shouldn’t be political, but can turn into polarizing issues in a hot second. Especially if you work for a government agency you already know how available your emails and communications are to the public. So, if you’re in one of these hot button practice areas, always be careful.  Make sure you’re following your agencies rules about information and behavior, especially if it’s being recorded. Be diplomatic in your responses; and if someone is venting to you about bosses, coworkers, clients, etc. there’s no rule that you have to respond like the number one hype man. You can just ignore it. If they ever come to light, the problem will stay with them.

I may sound overly cautious but that is because when I first started practicing, we used to do a hotline once a week where we answered basic immigration questions (mostly gave referrals). I was always so worried when it was my turn to do it because this was around the time that there were “undercover stings” by a group aiming to “reveal” certain groups like planned parenthood and PBS.  Legal aid was also one of their targets and I was always nervous that I may be recorded and something would be used against me/my agency.

I know that sounds paranoid, but you would be too if randos were going around conducting intricate stings to get a “gotcha” moment and I bet the members of the DNC, whose emails were just leaked, will be more cautious and appropriate in their email correspondence going forward as well.

Now of course you’re going to need to vent about work with coworkers–that’s like the nature of work. But there are like fifty other ways to communicate your frustrations that don’t involve archived conversations. Like, happy hour with coworkers. Ultimately, if you want to showcase your capacity to show restraint, increase your executive presence, along with making sure you’re protecting yourself in potential political situations (even if it’s just basic office-based politics) then it’s best to pause before you hit send.

One Comment

  • Ariana

    I’d like to add that the same should also go for the lolling-around type of emails (talking about/sharing nothing in particular) that we are sending from our professional handles. Having our outlooks open can make it very easy to engage in harmless exchanges that are not related to work. As a first-year associate this is just not something I can afford to do, and honestly just don’t want to. Even though I’m at a small firm that doesn’t actively monitor emails, there may be a time when these are reviewed and the last thing I’d want is for someone to question my time and commitment. I know that our office managers can access our emails at any time, and I would hate to be talked about for something silly when there really are soooo many alternate forms of communication. And if you’re a law student- forget about it! There should be ZERO of these.