CCing: One Culture We Need to End

October 24, 2011Articles New Jersey Law Journal

The "cc" or carbon copy — a term my assistant has repeatedly suggested is a relic of a bygone era when carbon paper existed — is a scourge of the modern era.

Outlook, Gmail and nearly every e-mail program I have seen allows for this function and its cousin the "bcc," or blind carbon copy, to flourish. This advancement in technology has taken the "cc" to new heights, and has caused me, normally, a peace-loving lawyer, to advocate war to obliterate it.

Although we are no longer tethered to copies squeezed out of mere carbon paper, the digital age allows for limitless "cc's's" and "bcc's" with no end in sight.

For example, in the first battle of my war that was initiated by an unprovoked, surprise attack, I received an e-mail sent to me and seven "cc's." The purpose of the e-mail was to ask me a question about an invoice. I answered the inquiry, but questioned the wisdom of copying so many unrelated people. In response, the person defended the copying of these individuals in yet another e-mail with the same seven people copied! This person essentially claimed these "cc's" needed to be in the "loop" and were copied as a "courtesy."

As part of my planning for this military adventure, I conducted high-level espionage activities that failed to reveal any scientific survey to justify the never-ending use of "cc's." Nonetheless, the reasons advanced by my misplaced colleague mentioned above seem to be commonly held, but are simply not valid or well thought out. Instead, such slavish devotion to those outdated beliefs may force unsuspecting individuals into a morass of logistical and legal nightmares.

Every time someone uses a "cc" or "bcc," the mailer has now made the recipient a potential deponent in a litigation, or a witness to be questioned in a criminal case.

Further, at the very least, the recipient or someone acting on his or her behalf will now be forced to review the recipient's correspondence to determine whether something needs to be produced in a litigation or investigation when such a situation arises. By taking precautions and judiciously using the "cc" or "bcc," one may be able to save a colleague from aggravation and trouble in the future, as well as legal fees for your organization.

In addition, avoiding "cc's" may, in fact, protect the information you are communicating from falling into the wrong hands. The more people copied on a particular e-mail or memorandum causes the probability of that information to be disseminated to a competitor or regulator.

In today's businesses and regulatory environment, less is truly more. Thus, although the memorandum may be directed to the right person, others who are copied may not understand the importance of it, and may not take the same security precautions.

Of course, this discussion begs the question: "Who should be copied?" Keeping people in the loop does not address the systemic issue of who really needs to be in the loop.

For example, copying three people in one department, two having no responsibility for any issue whatsoever, makes no sense. Equally fallacious is the claim that the copy was merely a courtesy. Please stop killing trees or cluttering inboxes claiming some unknown and unwritten right to courtesy. If you really need to tell someone something, pick up the telephone instead. Simply stated, those involved in the actual decision-making, reporting or gathering processes must know even for group consensus decisions, others may be left off. Again, think before you copy!

In short, the "cc" culture has seen its day, and, with a little forethought, we may be able to eradicate it in our lifetime. And do not get me started on the "reply all" key!

Reprinted with permission from the October 24 issue of The New York Law Journal. (c) 2011 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.