Email Disclaimers: What Do You Make of Them?

Posted by The Editors on January 27, 2012
Email Disclaimers: What Do You Make of Them?

We’ve talked before about email signatures and the weird, sometimes contradictory messages they can send. A recent Wall Street Journal article prompted me to examine a different, often more serious email component of everyday work place communications: the disclaimer.

Whether in emails from your parents’ work address or from recruiters or hiring managers, you’ve no doubt come across an email disclaimer. The article states that they’re most commonly used by “lawyers, bankers, analysts, consultants, publicists, tax advisers and even government employees,” so often the disclaimer tells you to be careful about what you just read. You may have just received confidential information, perhaps, or you shouldn’t consider what you’ve received to be actual advice on legal or financial matters.   

The disclaimer has generally seemed ill-placed to me: if I don’t see it until I get to the bottom, how can I unread what I’ve already read? Am I going to get in trouble? I never had one in my previous jobs, and I suppose they’re less common in the media and journalism worlds. Even though disclaimers are required in some professions—advice from a financial advisor is subject to federal regulation, for example—some are questioning their usefulness.

The article cites a number of long-winded disclaimers—130 words, 144 words, and a 636-word one that was written as a satire. A quick scan of my personal and work inboxes turned up ones with 86 and 113 words (many of those were in all caps), as well as one instance where I told a friend, “Disclaimer: I am a nerd.”

I checked mine, too: 53 words. Not overly lengthy, but maybe unnecessary. I’m not handling much confidential information. Whether your material’s sensitive or not, how seriously do you take these messages, and how do you react when you see one?

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