[Originally published on Slaw.ca on June 20, 2012]
A perennial challenge for lawyers is managing client communication. E-mail remains a cornerstone of lawyer interaction with clients and colleagues but it requires constant tending. You can use cloud-based tools to help you to automate some of your e-mail management. When a new e-mail hits your inbox, slap a label on it and archive a copy of the e-mail to your online file storage service.
One way this is possible is with a service that has already been mentioned on Slawcalled If That Then This (IFTTT). In the Year of Coding, it seems a fitting name for a cloud service that draws on programming logic. Once you create an account on IFTTT, you connect your account to other cloud-based services that you use and that are supported by IFTTT.
There are a wide variety of services you can activate and link to but the two that this example uses are Google Mail (GMail) and Dropbox, the online file storage service. Both of these cloud computing sites offer free and paid accounts.
Prepare Your IFTTT Account
First things first: go to http://ifttt.com.
- Create your IFTTT account. Use a strong password or passphrase since this account will be able to access multiple cloud services that you use.
- Your other cloud services can be connected as Channels. Click on the Channels drop down to display a list. The ones that are greyed out are available but not active. As you click on an icon for a service, you will be taken to a page (different for each service) to approve a link between IFTTT and your service. You may only want to activate new channels when you actually have a task that requires them.
- Once you have activated your channels, in this case one for Google Mail and one for Dropbox, you’re ready to create your first task.
Filter and File Your Google Mail
We need to break this down a bit further. Something needs to trigger the logic, to kick off the process. The marble won’t make it through the Rube Goldberg contraptionwithout something to get it started. Neither will your new task.
Whether or not you end up using IFTTT, you can use Google Mail to automatically file e-mails by (a) creating a filter to handle your incoming messages and (b) apply a label to matching e-mails. This setup can also act as a Google Mail task trigger on the receipt of a new e-mail:
- Access your Google Mail account and create a new label. Labels are how Google Mail creates a folder-like hierarchy to organize your mail. You can create any label you want but I’ll use a fake client name as an example:Alison Scimitar.
- Once you have created a label, you will be able to apply it to any e-mails you have in your account as well as any future e-mails. For example, if I have 3 e-mails related to a specific client matter, I can apply the label to all three and they will be grouped together as if I had placed them in a folder. You can have labels automatically applied, so if, for example, you are dealing with a client on a single matter and all of their e-mails are related to that matter, you can apply a filter that automatically labels them. The automatic labeling makes them appear both in your Inbox and in the client matter labeled folder, although you can change this behavior if you prefer.
Dropbox Folder Prep
GMail is now ready. What about Dropbox? We’re going to copy these e-mails as individual text files into Dropbox and file them in the appropriate client folder. If you are already storing your client files on Dropbox (and synchronizing them to your local computer) by client and matter, you may already have a folder for your client’s content. If you don’t, you can use IFTTT to create your first one.
Create Your IFTTT Task
Now you are ready to create your task in IFTTT. Click on the Create a Task button to get started on the seven step process.
- Step 1 of 7. Here’s the If This part. Choose your trigger by first selecting the channel (Google Mail, in this case) that will get the ball rolling.
- Step 2. Create the trigger. Google Mail can trigger three different ways: arrival of new e-mail, labeling of an e-mail, and new e-mail that is based on a search query. Let’s use the middle option, based on labeling.
- Step 3. Type in the label you want to use. Note that it’s case sensitive.
It’s for the Then That.
- Step 4. Select the second channel, the one where the resulting action will occur. For this, use Dropbox.
- Step 5. Just as with the trigger in step 2, you can choose your end result within the limits provided by the channel. Let’s use Create a Text File.
- Step 6. This is where you can customize the action. IFTTT will bring over certain information from your e-mail so you can use this to name the text file it is creating. My suggestions:
- a. File Name: place your cursor in this box, delete the From: text and instead insert the Label field. When you clicked on the box, a small drop down menu appeared at the right end of the box. Click on it, select Label and then click the blue arrow that appears. When I was finished, I had two fields here: Label and Email Subject.
- b. Dropbox Folder Path: Again, delete the default of ifttt/gmail. Instead, I typed in Clients/ and then inserted the field Label as I did above.
- c. Content: I didn’t make any changes here but you can edit it just as in the previous examples.
- Step 7. This is the easiest. Click the Create button at the bottom of the screen and you will be prompted to give your task a description. This can help if you start to create multiple tasks.
You’re done! IFTTT tasks execute every 15 minutes, so the next time you label an e-mail, it should be archived as a text file in your Dropbox account shortly thereafter.
Since Dropbox is a file synchronization service, each archived e-mail will be synchronized to your PC or other device. Once it’s archived, if you delete the e-mail in your inbox, it doesn’t impact the file on Dropbox. Once it’s on your local machine, you can easily browse to it or use your computer’s search tool (Windows search or Mac’s Finder or Spotlight) to bring it up based on keywords.
This task will only work on one label but you can repeat the process and create news tasks for additional clients. Or you might do it for only specific types of e-mails based on their content rather than their sender. It demonstrates one way that you can use a simple utility like If That Then This to help manage the information flowing over the cloud and through your practice.