Understanding Email Management

Understanding Email Management

And why it’s important to categorize email

Email management is a confusing term in and of itself, and the number of products labeled email management—as well as the different technologies they are based on—adds to the general confusion. Let’s examine several critical concepts we need to understand in order to define the scope of the problem email management products are trying to solve, which will then enable us to identify the best approach to solve it.

The basic business problem

Lawyers and law firms across the world are required to categorize their email into matters. This duty stems from the fundamental fact that the client owns the file, including any external correspondence and most internal correspondence.

Clients can request a copy of their matter file at any time. Ethical opinions in the United States have expressed that, if the firm has not filed their email with the rest of the matter content, the firm needs to produce the file at their cost. In many other parts of the world, the requirement to file email is specifically spelled out. In one case a lawyer was held liable of spoliation for deleting matter-related email—even though the litigation concerned a different matter.

Because of the high cost of eDiscovery, keeping every email can raise the total cost of litigation. On the other hand, not keeping email that is critical to the firm or to a client’s defense can have serious ramifications.

In the legal industry there are four major categories of technology for managing email: archiving, journaling, disaster recovery, and categorization in the document management system. Email archiving and journaling use the same basic technology for different purposes.

Email archiving

Email archiving was designed to reduce the strain on the email servers, either by reducing the number of items stored or by reducing the actual amount of storage used. If the only goal is to reduce the amount of storage, large emails are replaced with stubs after a fixed period that provides links to the email in the archive.

The stubbing approach has become less important as Microsoft has supported larger inboxes in the current version of Exchange. The critical issue for performance has now become the number of items in a folder or the number of folders in an inbox.

This has driven a newer approach to address the strain on email servers, which is to delete email from the mailbox after a set of amount of time. The user can still get to this content through the archive interface. In fact, starting in Exchange 2010, Microsoft provided support for an archive mailbox natively within Exchange.

In order to address total storage costs, many email archiving systems store a single instance of the email to reduce overall storage, and a few offer some capabilities to categorize content stored in their system.


Journaling is a process where all emails sent and received are captured for risk management and compliance purposes. For example, brokers-dealers in financial services are required to keep all correspondence with clients for a specified number of years. Some law firms use journaling as a secondary protection mechanism against accidental deletion of critical emails in case of litigation or eDiscovery.

Disaster recovery

Disaster recovery technology is a third-party cloud or hosted service that firms use as a backup if their email system goes down. These systems typically hold a limited amount of email from each mailbox. Their primary purpose is to allow the firm to continue to send and receive email until their primary email system comes back online.

Categorization into the DMS

Technology for categorization into a document management system is designed to allow you to categorize email as sent or received. All of these categorization technologies are designed to help you going forward with filing emails. They don’t address how to handle legacy emails. The current state of the art takes a variety of approaches to help users categorize their email:

Send and file: When users send an email, they are asked to determine the matter or engagement in which the email should be filed.

File from a toolbar: Users select an email, they select a location in which the email should be filed.

Suggest a location: When users select an email from the toolbar, the system may suggest a location to file the email.

Link a folder to a folder in the DMS: Links mailbox folder with a location in the document management system.

File the email server-side: Users are not impacted by the filing process when filing takes place on the server side.

Leave a convenience copy in the inbox: Allows users to keep a copy of an email for quick reference or personal organization

Filers and Inboxers

The value of having different approaches is that they handle the two prominent types of users: “filers” and “inboxers.” The filers are focused on filing all their email in the appropriate location in a folder in their mailbox while the inboxers prefer to use search to find email in their mailbox.

The ability to link folders with the folders in the matter file satisfies the filers. (The one thing to note is that many filers would group content by client instead of matter. The result is that their legacy file structures are very difficult to import.) The inboxers typically leverage the email filing toolbar.

Tablets, phones, and remote access

Tablets, phones, and web-based remote access provide a challenge for users who prefer to use the toolbar and Send & File for filing emails. Unlike Outlook, most of the native email applications on these devices (iPhone, Android, Windows 8 RT) and Outlook Web Access do not support the ability to add functionality of this type. The only exception is the BlackBerry. This means that the user has an incongruent experience. It also means that the firm needs to provide a completely different email client for these devices and for remote web access.

Inbox clean-up and linking journals/archive

When users keep a convenience copy of an email in the inbox, they can fully leverage the convenience copy through the life of the matter. However, when the matter ends, the logical approach for the firm is to delete the convenience copy from the user’s inbox and, going forward, rely on the copy in the electronic matter file.

Similarly, when email is categorized in the document management system, its filing state should be marked in the email archive or journal. This allows the firm to properly manage the lifecycle of this content. For example, during eDiscovery the firm can search journal, archive, and electronic matter files and easily remove duplicates in the process.

Legacy email

The advent of technology to categorize and file email from the mailbox to the document management system has been in existence for several years. The challenge for many firms is that in most cases their user population has been using email for over 15 years. The email may be still in their mailbox or PSTs. Firms must decide what to do with all of that legacy email. In most cases, the firm wants to file it in the document management system to reduce the load on Exchange and, potentially, manage the lifecycle of this content. Sometimes that simply means keeping it for a very long time.

As the electronic matter file became common, practices for filing email diverged. Many lawyers organized their email into client folders rather than matters. Others organized email into matters and issues. In either case, the organization structure is very important to the lawyers because they may want to use them as reference material for current cases. The goal is to move the complete structure intact to either an appropriate general matter when the content is client-specific or to a specific matter when the matter is known. In most cases, this requires transferring a large amount of data. Optimally, this process doesn’t impact the end user by tying up their machine nor does it impact the server-side infrastructure used to file and categorize current email.

File transfers

When a lawyer is hired laterally, they typically bring their existing case files with them. Many times the email related to those cases will be brought in as a PST. (They were likely extracted from the lawyer’s inbox and were not filed to the DMS.)

For most firms, the content of the PST should be stored in the document management system with the appropriate matters once the firm has received the appropriate engagement letter from a client. The folders in the PST should then be mapped to the appropriate matter and imported.

Departing employees

When an employee leaves the firm, there is always the question about what to do with their email. If the firm has not achieved 100% compliance in capturing all matter-related and other important emails in the document management system, it is incumbent on the firm to save the employee’s mailbox. Moving the mailbox into archive library allows the firm to share the employee’s email with persons taking over their case load and enables the firm to search the mailbox in case of litigation or eDiscovery.

Putting it all together

It is incumbent upon law firms today to capture and categorize all client and matter related content in the document management system. The firm also needs to capture legacy email and place it in the document management system so that eventually it usefulness can age out. If most of the email flows into the document management system, an email archive should no longer be needed. However, many firms would like to continue with an email journal as a safety measure. The document management systems and the journal need to integrated, which allows the firm to eliminate the file emails from the journal and then determine if the remaining email has any long term value.

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