As a participant in a number of listservs and internet forums, and a recipient of literally hundreds of emails every day, I often wonder whether most people give enough thought to what their emails and other internet communications say about them. It's amazing how many lawyers treat email and other internet communications as if they didn't 'count.' It's a good idea to always make sure that you always put your best foot forward.
Whether you like it or not, if you're posting on a forum or list, chances are that your posts are not 'private.' In fact, there's a very good chance that those posts are searchable, and can be read by a 'stranger' doing a search on Google or any of the other popular search engines. Not only that, but you never really know who's reading. Even if you think you know who is on a particular list, you may be surprised to learn about the many 'lurkers' who read listservs, forums and the like but don't participate. The number of active participants on any list is likely to be only a small percentage of those who actively read the list. Just because everyone isn't participating doesn't mean that they aren't paying attention and making a judgment about you, your abilities, your attitudes, competence and professionalism.
While you may think your email is private, you have no control over who the email recipient forwards your email to. Some stories about inappropriate emails have become legendary, including the now infamous round of emails between a young lawyer and a potential employer. Make sure everything you put in an email is appropriate, professional and ethical.
Think about what you may have posted on a forum, listserve, email group or other internet vehicle such as MySpace. How would you feel if a client searching the web found your post? Do your posts portray you in your best light?
Current, former or potential clients could be reading what you write. Potential referral sources could be 'lurking' on the list. You never know where future clients will come from. Don't blow a potential opportunity as a result of sloppy internet usage. If your formal marketing materials are perfect but your everyday etiquette, behavior, language, etc. on the internet is less than stellar, you may be inadvertently sabotaging your own efforts.
If you wouldn't send out your email message or other internet communication on paper, by regular mail, perhaps you should think twice about letting it loose on the internet. Spelling and grammar are just as important on the web as they are in 'real life.' Use proper capitalization and punctuation. Make your paragraphs easy to read. Don't engage in 'flamewars.' Etiquette and professionalism matter. You don't have to be perfect, but at least be presentable. You never know who's 'listening.'