Last night I gave a CLE where I discussed email addresses for solos and small firms.
My recommendation was that no law firm should be sending emails from an @aol.com email address.
Instantly, a portion of the audience began nodding their heads in acknowledgement.
Another segment was confused.
“What’s wrong with AOL?” someone asked.
So, I wanted to take the time to fully explore this in a longer blog post.
Why Do People Send Law Firm Emails from AOL?
Let’s start at the beginning – why would a law firm send an email from a personal-looking email account?
It’s easy and free.
Simple as that.
Getting an AOL, Yahoo, or Gmail account is easy to do. Within two minutes, you can have a new, free email account, calendar, and contact book with gigs and gigs of storage space.
When it is so easy to get an AOL or Gmail address, what is the incentive to switch to a custom-domain email (e.g. your-name@your-firm-website)?
What’s wrong with AOL (or Yahoo, Hotmail, and Gmail)
There are a few issues with having a personal email account as your main email address:
AOL leaves a bad impression
Many firms have customized email addresses. And it’s not just the Biglaw firms out there.
It is not difficult or expensive to actually set up a custom email address.
While every Biglaw firm has custom email addresses, many solos do too.
When a potential client sees your business card and it shows you have your own email address it signifies a few things:
- You have a current level of technological competence
- Your firm is doing well enough that you can afford basic IT
- Your firm may have multiple employees
- Your firm has a brand it cares about
So when a potential client sees that you have an email from AOL or Gmail, they recognize that you:
- Are possibly sharing this email account with personal emails, making me wonder if my confidential information is safe
- Are a solo lawyer without support staff (because support staff would have their own firm-related email address)
- Have limited resources to fight any disputes with larger firms
- Are unfamiliar with current standard web technology
Whether that is true or not, this is the impression potential clients may get.
Some lawyers have said to me, “AOL is so old-school, that’s why I use Gmail.”
I don’t think Gmail for a law firm’s email address is much better than AOL at this point.
Are your client emails confidential among your personal inbox?
One big concern a potential client might have is the appearance of a lack of separation of professional and personal emails.
Is confidential client data going to be safe among the promotional emails you’re getting from Amazon.com and Bed Bath and Beyond?
Are other family members of my lawyer going to be reading my emails on a shared home computer?
AOL is bad for branding
Using AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail, and Gmail are bad for branding.
When a potential client gets your business card, you email is not representing your firm, it’s representing someone else’s brand.
Having a custom domain is an easy win for your branding.
Custom domains makes your firm look more professional.
Importantly, they remind people of your website address. If a client has a referral to give and writes down your email address, that potential client can now look you up online.
AOL is terrible for organization
What happens when you hire a paralegal or associate? How are they going to send and receive emails? With another AOL/Gmail account? Is it going to be “email@example.com?”
What happens if you have to fire that person? Will you still be able to access everything?
The easiest way to set yourself up for the future and potential growth or eventual sale of the firm is with a custom domain that allows you to add on new email addresses for staff.
I have seen solo firms that have one Gmail address they share with their paralegal.
Their inboxes look like a mine field.
With multiple people trying to manage their inboxes and find relevant emails, it’s a disaster and productivity-killer.
Setting up a Custom Email Address
Getting a custom email address is very easy to do.
Step 1 – Get a domain
First, you need a domain. That’s the [your-website].com or whatever.
You can buy one from GoDaddy or Namecheap for $10 per year.
Better yet, search Google for “GoDaddy coupon” or “Namecheap coupon” and you can get a domain for a bit less.
Step 2 – Get an email provider
Now that you have a domain, you need an email hosting provider.
Office 365 comes with current versions of Microsoft Office
Google Apps comes with professional versions of Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs.
If you’re ultimately going to be sending your emails to Outlook though, Office365 is probably the better bet.
Step 3 – Connect your domain and email provider
This part is a bit technical, but your email provider will help you out with this one.
You’ll need to get your domain to point it’s mail records (“MX records”) to your email provider.
If it’s too much of a hassle (though it should only take about 10-15 minutes to do if it’s your first time), you can buy email service through GoDaddy or Namecheap.
Step 4- Configure your phone to get email
Your email provider will also have a handy guide on setting up your email for your smartphone.
And that’s it.
In as little as 20 minutes (but realistically the whole process is going to be more like an hour if you’ve never set it up before), you can have a custom email address to impress potential clients, colleagues, judges, and opposing counsel.