Microsoft Outlook’s autocomplete feature is handy. You type in a few letters of an e-mail address and the rest is filled in for you. But there’s more to the feature than first meets the eye. Noted legal technologist Ross Kodner believes the feature is so dangerous it should be disabled in all law firms. (I’ll link you to the instructions to do that in a moment.) His theory is that you can used to typing in "Mar" and hitting enter to send it to your secretary, Mary. Then suddenly you do it with a e-mail containing a critical confidential file attachment and it mysteriously goes to another Mary, the opposing counsel on the case. While Ross may have a point, I think we should first understand how this works.

Outlook Autocomplete "guesses" the name or e-mail address you are beginning to enter. But if you assume it is guessing from your Contacts list, you’d be wrong. Instead it compiles a list of Nicknames from recently sent e-mails (and maybe sometimes from your Contacts.) That’s why Mary A-something can suddenly replace trusted Mary your legal assistant in Autocomplete. So you can easily send something to the wrong person without realizing you did, or even worse, just as you realize what is happening. (Ross Kodner also defined a time unit called the oh-no-second, which is the time period when it registers with your brain that you should not click the mouse or hit enter and at that instant the unstoppable finger does so anyway. You then follow by saying "Oh, no." Well, oh, something anyway!)

So anyway, here are some autocomplete tips:

  1. Here is a page explaining how to disable autocomplete that I Googled up.
  2. Alternatively, you can easily prune dangerous entries from the Nicknames list. When a list of autocomplete entries appears as you type, use the down arrow key to select names or addresses you use only rarely (or are opposing law firms) and delete them from Nicknames with the Delete key. This cab be quite helpful when someone you only send one e-mail to suddenly is in the way of your frequently used Nicknames.
  3. If you are e-mailing someone who is in your address book, the key combination Ctrl + K will search your Outlook Contacts (but not Nicknames) for the text you have typed so far. If only one match is found, it completes the address. If there are several, you are given a list from which to make a selection. This works whether or not autocomplete had been disabled.
  4. Finally, sometimes the Nickname list will become corrupted and have to be reset. Microsoft tells how here.

Now no one tell Ross I was being a Nicknames enabler, OK?