- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2006

E-mail correspondence can take up to three hours per day for many workers, resulting in billions of dollars of lost time and forcing businesses to teach their employees how to use the tool more efficiently and how to avoid messages that could become legal evidence.

The Supreme Court last month amended rules that will make it easier for attorneys seeking evidence in federal cases to request millions of e-mails. The new rules go into effect Dec. 1 unless Congress intervenes, which is not expected to happen.

“I’m always asking employers for e-mails,” said Bob Lipman, a New York employment lawyer and president of Interactive Employment Training Inc. “We think there’s a smoking gun out there.”

In addition to potential legal trouble, many e-mails are simply a waste of time. The average corporate user sends and receives a total of 133 messages per day, according to the Radicati Group Inc., a technology market research firm in Palo Alto, Calif.

Last week, Mr. Lipman’s company partnered with LitigationProofing LLC, a consulting firm, to sell an online course that helps employees avoid e-mail gaffes that can lead to financial or job loss, and ensures employers regard e-mails as permanent documents.

The companies have not signed a client for the course, which costs between $10 and $25 per user. The training outlines the “seven deadly sins of workplace e-mail,” which Eric M. Rosenberg, president of LitigationProofing, said include a perception that the delete function erases messages permanently, sending personal messages from work and attempts at humor that later can be taken literally.

Mr. Rosenberg previously served as a litigation manager at Merrill Lynch. His former employer was fined $2.5 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission in March for failing to properly archive and produce e-mails in a timely manner. Credit Suisse First Boston and Morgan Stanley also have been penalized for sloppy e-mail accounting. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael D. Brown was criticized for sending an e-mail about the appearance of his clothing on television.

“As electronic communication became more prevalent, I saw more people making stupid mistakes that complicated their litigation life,” said Mr. Rosenberg, who has more than 30 years of litigation experience.

Mr. Lipman said electronic discovery used to be expensive and time-consuming, but the amended rules, which some judges already have adopted, and technological enhancements will make the practice more routine.

“People take shortcuts, use abbreviations and are much more glib on e-mails” than when writing a letter, he said. “It’s more like they’re talking to a friend on the phone in a locker room.”

Products on the market that search messages for key words and alert administrators to suspected problems are selling well, and the market should continue to grow as corporate and government employers increase compliance with record-retention rules, said Matt Anderson, an analyst at Radicati.

CohesiveKnowledge Solutions Inc., an e-mail efficiency training company, conducted thousands of surveys at 20 client sites and found that workers spend an average of 2 hours a day on e-mail and consider 30 percent of that time to be wasted.

That equates to about $250 billion wasted each year when counting the 56 million U.S. workers who deal directly with corporate or educational information and assuming an average wage of $25 per hour, said Mike Song, chief executive of the Guilford, Conn., company.

CohesiveKnowledge conducts the surveys about employees’ e-mail habits before, immediately after and 30 days after training. Results are given to its clients, which include Capital One and Pfizer Inc.

Mr. Song then uses the findings in training workshops to help e-mail users become more efficient.

Common problems include replying to all, overusing distribution lists and sending unnecessary messages, he said.

“All workshops stress the importance of appropriate, compliant and non-offensive e-mails,” Mr. Song said, adding that a one-day training session for 60 people costs $3,500.

“E-mails are also great. They can add efficiency, but taken out of a context they can hurt a company,” Mr. Lipman said.

“We teach employees to use e-mails to do their jobs better.”

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