Email Disclaimers – The Next Wacky Warning Labels?

Have you read any good email disclaimers lately?

If you get a fair amount of email, chances are that you have at least glanced at a few of them.  Electronic disclaimers are getting almost as common as the wacky warning labels that we see everywhere in America these days, and some are almost as funny.

These disclaimers were recently the focus of a Wall Street Journal story and our own weekly radio commentary, “Let’s Be Fair,” and we thought you might be interested in what lawyers think about them.

Actually, there is no consensus among lawyers on the topic, and there has been an ongoing debate over just how effective — and enforceable — email disclaimers are. Some think these disclaimers have value, but others think won’t stand up in a court of law.

The Wall Street Journal tells the story of one attorney who changed his mind on the disclaimers. “Several years ago, William L. Wilson sent a memo to other partners in his South Bend, Ind., law firm insisting they include a standard confidentiality disclaimer on every email. ‘As I began to think about it further I realized no one reads these things,’ said Mr. Wilson, who practices civil law. ‘I don’t read them.’ He has removed the disclaimer from his emails.

Another attorney, who I suspect sees more of these disclaimers than almost anyone in America, thinks that many of them are worthless.  James Merklinger, vice president of the Association of Corporate Counsel, argues that many disclaimers are pointless, especially ones at the end of emails ordering unintended recipients not to read the text that came before.  As he says in the same article, “It gets harder and harder to argue you have a system in place to keep information confidential, but then you have your order from [Mexican restaurant] Chipotle marked as privileged.”

Since we live in a society where it has become almost a reflex for some people to sue first and ask questions later, we’ll probably keep seeing more and more email disclaimers…even if virtually no one reads them.

To read the funniest email disclaimer I’ve ever seen, click here.  If you have one you would like to share, we would love to see it.

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