A blog by Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Brian Tannebaum. Commenting on criminal law issues of local and national interest.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The 1,214 Email Vacation, Taming The Listserv Beast

I did it.

Turned off the blackberry for a week - 7 days.

The goal - to see how many emails I receive in a week, and to see whether I would return to "is this thing on" from anyone.

So here's the breakdown:

1,214 - average of 173.8 a day, an average of 7.2 an hour.

883 came from lawyer listservs - 72%

189 of the listserv emails, or 21%, came from 29 people.

Of the rest, about 189 were "somewhat" relevant, meaning they came from real people not trying to sell me anything, including some from clients.

But 72% of the emails I receive on a weekly basis are on lawyer listservs.

Now I'm a member of 5 lawyer listservs. Three are criminal defense, two are ethics. The most active is NACDL, and FACDL coming in at 261 and 268 emails respectively for the week, as compared to the NACDL White Collar Listserv at 60.

Listservs are an interesting animal. After many years watching and participating, I've been called "the meanest person" on my state association listserv for my comments referring people to things like "google" and books that contain rules and statutes.

On lawyer listservs (and I've confirmed it's not confined to criminal defense), there's probably a half-dozen personalities.

There's the "I have to write a motion and don't want to re-invent the wheel" types. Translated: "I haven't written shit, wouldn't know where to start and just want to copy yours."

Then there's the person who goes to the listserv with every question from law to tech to where to eat on vacation.

And there's the ones who never miss an opportunity to answer every question, usually starting with "I've never had a case like that and can't answer your question, but I did save 15% on my car insurance from switching to Geico."

And let's not leave out those who are looking for an expert who of course will work for free. These are the same people looking for a referral to a lawyer, not to hire them, but to talk to them. They also are looking for various lawyers who do very specific things in very small towns. For example: "I'm looking for a lawyer in (insert town no one has heard of) who has handled a contract dispute between a trucking company and a deaf guy who was 27 minutes late to work and was suspended for a day and lost $125 and wants to sue but has no money and owes me money for the last case I handled. Any takers?"

Did I leave out the "me too?" These are the people who read about a ruling or motion, and want a copy. They've never provided anything of value to anyone, but are happy to accept your work.

There's always the "oops" people. "Sorry, that was not meant for the entire list." Really, so you're not going to call me in an hour to discuss the discovery issues in the Smith case?

Let me not forget the "I just took money from a guy for a case I have no idea how to handle, please send motions, thoughts, candy, flowers..."

And the "I'm not happy unless I can perpetuate a debate for 4 days" folks.

And the "I have a trial coming up, in 3 hours, anyone got any case law for me?"

Of course I would never leave out the news people. These are the lawyers who believe no one else reads the paper or sees news on the internet. Two days after a big story hits - they're right on it. That always wakes up the "that's not fair" crowd.

Some emails on listservs shock me. I recently asked what lawyers would write if they knew their clients would read it?

Some make me laugh.

Some make me wonder if the lawyer actually has a practice, or just sits at their dining room table on the computer all day answering emails.

And some ask why I just don't get off. What is it I get from being on listservs.

Well, for one, there's an occasional gem, some good advice, and interesting ruling.

Cases? Most people looking for a lawyer on a listserv are looking on behalf of a client with little to no money. Not a criticism, just a fact.

I do refer a lot of cases, and that, I like to do. No, I don't go on and announce I'm looking for a lawyer, I have enough friends and colleagues to know how to get those names without doing the "anyone interested in a DUI in Backwater?" What I do is provide names to people who ask, and I do it in a way no one else seems to understand: OFF-LIST.

It shocks me that I receive over a thousand emails a week, many irrelevant, but for now, for those few lawyers who benefit from a recommendation, and the occasional interesting tid-bit I read, it's going to have to remain this way.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer.Share/Save/Bookmarkokdork.com rules Post to Twitter


  1. You are a very mean man. Brutally accurate, but mean.

  2. One wonders why you don't just unsubscribe from that useless list. I did and somehow my law practice has managed to chug along quite nicely even though I'll never know the best places to eat when I go to Disneyland and will have to actually talk to a colleague when I need some help.

  3. Ell,

    I hear you, and if we're talking about my practice, yes, unsubscribing wouldn't matter. But I do enjoy occasionally helping a colleague, or reading something relevant. Occasionally.


  4. Good post. I'm on two listserves --- a local trial lawyers' association and our state trial lawyers' association --- that also get a ridiculous volume of emails (though our off-topic posts are apparently screened a little more strictly than yours).

    I think there are two values to our lists. One, you're right about the occasional gem, which I think is important to help us stay on top of issues.

    But the other value is to make sure all of us collectively are making the best arguments. When another plaintiff's lawyer goes into court and makes a half-assed argument on an unsettled issued that affects me when I go to the same judge on the same issue later. I think listserves help raise the tide in that manner. Maybe it's different in the CDL context...

  5. It was when I had to set up email filters to automatically delete subject lines of : [WC], [HUMOR], hate, Las Vegas, POL, MLK, bogart, Bush, solopol, cheney, movie, music, basketball, tourney, blues, hawaii, NSA, barf, vodka, iraq, rattlesnakes, world cup, red sox, joisey, cleavage, Butterball, Katrina, sci fi, superbowl, plonk, pumpkin, buckeye, bubba, gators, booze, Marcel Marceau, COTE, and simulated drowning that I figured the signal to noise ratio had hit the tipping point.

  6. Yeah, I'm a Marlins fan myself