Many law-related mailing lists entertain a rule that “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” and it’s downright disappointing when subscribers violate that rule. A core value of many law-related mailing lists is that information shared among list subscriber remains within the community and is not be shared with outsiders. A list, particularly a closed one, has a bond among its subscribers and a sense of community. One of the early tenets of mailing list etiquette was “Never forward a post outside of the list to which it was originally submitted.” And that rule is often ignored by well-intended list subscribers who don’t give a second thought to re-posting a list message to another list without seeking permission. You’d think they’d know better, but they don’t.
The forwarded post doesn’t even have to reveal a deeply-held secret. Let’s even forget the matter of who owns the posts made to a list. More often than not, a list subscriber simply asks a question, and another subscriber forwards that message to another list, thinking he’s being helpful. Or the subscriber will forward that message to someone not on the mailing list whom he thinks has the answer, expecting that the recipient is so interested in helping others that he or she will jump to provide answers. Every week or so, an AV-rated lawyer who really ought to know better, will forward me a message he’s received from a mailing list, suggesting that I respond to a subscriber who wants to know something about law in Mexico. My initial polite responses descended to “I’m not on the mailing list, and I’m not about to answer questions to someone who hasn’t asked me,” and then finally to simply deleting the message without any response.
The better route is to suggest either on-list or privately that So-and-So might have the answer. The subscriber posing the question doesn’t deserve to have his or her ignorance broadcast beyond the mailing list. Think twice before blithely forwarding that query on to others.