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WSLL @ Your Service  no. 4 
An E-publication of the Wisconsin State Law Library

Focus On: Listservs

Mailing lists are subscription-based discussion groups that allow you to read and write messages to people who share the same interests. After you subscribe, list messages are delivered to your email inbox. You can also send, or "post," a message to the list via your email account. When you send a message to the list address, it will be delivered to all list members. Many Internet users commonly refer to mailing lists as listservs. The term "Listserv" is actually a trademarked name of L-Soft international, Inc., a company that developed a commonly used mailing list software called "LISTSERV." As L-Soft notes on its webpage only mailing lists that use LISTSERV software can truly be called listservs. In this article I will use the term "mailing list."

Joining a Mailing List

The first step in joining a list is finding the right one for you. The ABA offers a host of mailing list groups.  Findlaw  provides a "discussion lists" link in each of its legal subject areas and state resources. Enter "mailing list" in the Findlaw search box to retrieve discussion list links. One of the most comprehensive lists of law-related mailing lists is Lyonette Louis-Jacques’ Law List page.  In addition, some sections of the Wisconsin State Bar have their own discussion lists. Good places to look for mailing lists on other subjects are Liszt, Meta-List.net and Tile.net/lists.

Subscribing: Generally, to subscribe to a mailing list one sends a subscribe command in the form of an email message to the list’s administrative email address. Note that the administrative email address is always different from a list’s discussion address. Contact the administrator for housekeeping tasks, such as subscribing or unsubscribing. Use the discussion address when you want to send a message for all to read.

When joining or leaving a list, it is important to follow the protocol established by the list administrator. In most cases the destination of your subscribe or unsubscribe request is a machine, not a person. Therefore, messages that do not follow the protocol will not be understood and will fail. Many mailing lists have started utilizing web forms for this process. Users simply fill out a form on a webpage and they are subscribed to (or dropped from) the list. The ABA’s Discussion Group Catalog is one mailing service utilizing the web form subscription process.

Once subscribed to the list, you will receive a confirmation message from the list’s administrative address. It will contain information about participating on the list and other commands you may need later. Do not delete this message! Save it so you have the commands needed to unsubscribe. Some lists require that you reply to the confirmation message with your own confirmation. Follow the instructions and you will begin receiving messages from list participants. The confirmation or welcome message will generally contain additional command information and a statement about the list’s purpose, general audience and rules of participation.


Learn how to post messages to the list by reading the directions contained in the confirmation message. It’s usually okay to "lurk" on a list (read but rarely or never post messages). Some lists have rules about content. For example, the Technolawyer list designates three or four topics each week and discussion takes place only on those topics. 

Follow basic netiquette rules. Do not forward chain letters to the list. Always sign your postings, and include a phone or fax number if appropriate. Do not write in all capital letters. When responding to a message, consider how much of the original post should be included in your message - it’s best to trim off parts of the original post if not needed. For a more detailed discussion of netiquette see "A Lesson in Netiquette: Mom Was Right – Manners are Important – Even for Lawyers." 

MOST IMPORTANTLY, do not inadvertently send a "private" message to the list. When sending ANY email, double check the TO: address line. Also, remember that mailing lists are public forums. Many mailing lists make their archived messages available on the web, so keep in mind that any message you post to a mailing list could potentially be available on the web or forwarded to any number of people unbeknownst to you.

-- Heidi Yelk

Upcoming Focus On: topics include  "Historic Documents;" "How to Access & Use Legal Resource Index;" "'What is BadgerLink?" "Judicial Council Materials: A Very Special Collection;" "Native American Resources @ WSLL"
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Connie Von Der Heide 608-267-2202 Comments welcome!