This email is only intended for the recipient

How many of the emails which you receive contain paragraphs of automatically inserted legal jargon at the end? You know, the sort of nonsense which talks about “accepting no liability” and the email “being for the recipient only”, etc. Usually, the larger the company, the more likely their emails will have all this garbage added, but that’s because the larger the company, the more chance there is of someone being involved in policy-making who’s scared that other companies know something they don’t. The only reasons that these disclaimers exist is because people see other companies using them, and because lawyers (if consulted) have no interest in coming clean and admitting they’re pointless.

Here’s the thing. You can’t impose a contractual obligation on somebody if they haven’t negotiated it. That means you can’t send them an email and at the same time tell them what they can and can’t do with it. The whole thing – like so much to do with the legal world – has just come about through fear and ignorance. You probably get just as many emails from other companies which don’t have “disclaimers” in the footer. Are these companies all heading for legal problems? Have they had them in the past? Of course not. The only difference is that these companies have got better things to do than employ the sort of people whose contribution to the business is to insist that all outgoing emails have long disclaimers at the bottom.

If you’re in a large organisation, you’ll have more important things to do than to track down whoever long ago ordered the IT department to put this rubbish in every email, and ask them if it was really ever necessary. But in a small- to medium-sized business, you can put a stop to it.

The acid test is this: does anyone insist that you put the same “disclaimer” stuff at the end of every printed letter your company sends out? Emails and printed letters are no different. If a company is forced by law to append something to every communication (as the financial services industry is, about giving advice), then it will go on both. If you need to say that the contents of the message are covered by non-disclosure agreements, then that statement should be added, whether it’s a printed letter or an email.

There are requirements as to what should be included in every business email, which I covered here over two years ago. But guess what? They’re the same as for printed letters.

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