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Reducing email volume between in-house teams and law firms

Law departments and their external providers are being urged to rethink how they communicate, with many spending as much as two-thirds of their working time on emails.

user iconEmma Musgrave 28 November 2023 Corporate Counsel
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Speaking on a recent episode of The Corporate Counsel Show, Michael Milnes, senior corporate counsel at TPG Telecom, said some lawyers often spend two-thirds of their working time on emails, leaving little time for productivity.

Instead of relying on email, Mr Milnes urged in-house teams and law firms alike to be more strategic about how they communicate with each other.

“There’s a lot of cliches about law firms sending long advice emails, when actually we just want something short,” Mr Milnes said.


“The better able the firm is to plug into how a team actually works is more helpful. For example, I’ve heard of examples where a law firm will provide advice and the in-house counsel spends their time turning that advice into a PowerPoint presentation because they’ve got to present that advice to a board or whatever it is.

“How helpful it would be if the law firm provider knew that’s what the in-house lawyer was going to take with the advice and do with it and provided a draft PowerPoint presentation with the slides? That would be a very insightful and helpful value-add rather than trawling through an email.”

Moving away from the heavy reliance on emails will also help mitigate pressures and stress put on both in-house teams and law firms, Mr Milnes noted.

“I think there are things that firms can do, but I think [there are things] teams [can do when] working with their law firms. So not putting the pressure on law firms by sending things through late at night and expecting it [to get] done straight away,” he said, as an example.

“If we’re going to send information over to a busy associate at a law firm, let’s not send 10 emails and expect them to deal with it. [Instead], package everything up and perhaps have a meeting to explain it all to them.

“Those kinds of strategies help reduce the overall volume of email traffic between firms. Then if you’re working on something like an M&A transaction, for example, we [should] investigate solutions like client portals and that kind of thing so all communication happens in and around the documents and the tasks, [and] it’s not happening through people’s inboxes.”

A group effort is essential if we’re ever to tackle the vast volumes of emails coming and going back and forward, Mr Milnes said.

“The hacks and the tips and everything else work to an extent to mitigate the symptoms, but to get to the deep-rooted underlying cause of these problems, you have to have conversations as a team …

“Nobody ever comes in and tells you, ‘This is how you should use your email’. You just work it out. You arrive at a legal team, and you see how things work, and you just roll with it. So that more mindful approach to how we’re going to do things as a team, how we’re going to offer our services as a team, how we can do things more efficiently, how we’re going to work together instead of kind of making it a personal productivity thing [is key],” he said.

Looking ahead, Mr Milnes urged team leaders to tackle significant email volumes now in order to create a happier and less stressful workplace moving forward.

I wouldn’t want to leave people with the myth that I have a zero inbox and have it all organised and all sorted. Like I said, it is an ongoing challenge and an uphill challenge, I think, because it’s so ingrained into the way that we work.

“But we’ve talked about the huge problems that at a personal level and a team level and organisation level can arise, and by solving those, it’s going to make people’s working days better, and I think that’s a prize worth working towards.

“At the end of the day, we want to go to work and do meaningful work and enjoy it and have good relationships with our colleagues, and email cuts across that. I think if we can solve some of these problems with email, then it’s going to make everyone’s lives a little bit happier and [help us] get back to the work that we all love doing,” he concluded.

NB: This transcript has been edited slightly for publishing purposes. You can listen to the full episode here:

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