Start Page: Microsoft Outlook distribution lists reduce email frustration

September 10, 2014

WilsonHave you ever used the “reply all” option on an email that has multiple recipients, only to get a return email notifying you that one (or more) of the email addresses was typed incorrectly by the original sender? Or, do you frequently email the same group of people by typing one email address at a time, only to realize that you forgot to include someone (usually right after you hit send)? The solution? Use distribution lists in Microsoft Outlook.

What is a distribution list?

A distribution list is a tool in Outlook that links several contacts’ records together. Say you want to create a distribution list for your mom, dad, brothers and sisters. You can name the distribution list “My Family” and add the contact records for each person in your family that you want to include in the list. The next time you want to email your family, you simply select the “My Family” distribution list and Outlook automatically inserts the email addresses in the “To:” field.

Distribution lists are helpful in multi-party cases to ensure everyone on the certificate of service is included each time you send an email to all counsel. Use these steps to create a distribution list using Outlook.

Step One: Create a contact

First, create a contact for the person you want to include in your distribution list. Open Outlook and click “File | New | Contact” (or press “Ctrl Shift C”). A contact form appears. Enter the contact’s information. Input at least the first name, last name and email address. Press “Save and Close.” Now that the contact is created, add that person to a distribution list.

Step Two: Create a distribution list

From Outlook, click “File | New | Distribution List” (or press “Ctrl Shift L”). A new distribution list form appears. You have two options to add a contact (called a “Member”) to the distribution list. You can either choose “Select Members” or “Add New.” For this article, use “Select Members” to access your contact list.

Outlook will open a box titled “Select Members: Global Address List.” Generally, you will see some contact names for users in your firm or company in the first screen. Find the area of the screen that says “Address Book” toward the top right of the screen. Click the drop down arrow below the words “Address Book” and choose “Contacts,” located under the words “Outlook Address Book.” This “book” contains the contacts you created above.

Note: This might be the most confusing part of this process because your IT department may have set up Outlook’s address book differently than the steps discussed in this article. The key is to find your personal Outlook Address Book. You can simply go through each option under “Address Book” until you find the contact created above to finish the steps below.

In the search box, type the name of the contact you just added. Double click on the email address you want to add to the distribution list. The name will appear toward the bottom of the screen where it says “Members.”

You can add contacts to the distribution list by repeating this process. When you are done adding contacts to the list, click “OK.”

You will be taken back to your “Distribution List” box. There, you will see the contacts you added in a list. The cursor should be in the “Name” field. Name the distribution list something that is easy to remember. Consider using names like “Case Name – All” or “Case Name – Defense Counsel,” or “My Family.” Click “Save and Close.”

If you need to change the distribution list, open the Contacts section of Outlook and search for the distribution list by name. Double click to open and modify the list by selecting or removing members as needed.

Step Three: Use

Finally, start a new email and type the name of your distribution list or select it from the address book (remember, it is generally stored under Outlook Address Book | Contacts). Once selected, the distribution list is added to the “To:” field. Now you don’t have to type separate email addresses when you want to send an email to multiple recipients. You will also reduce the chance of forgetting someone important on an email or incorrectly typing an email address.

Tip: If you want to see who the distribution list is sending an email to, click the “+” sign to the left of the distribution list name in the “To:” field of your email. Outlook will “expand” the distribution list so you can see each email address in the distribution list.

Distribution lists are a great way to enter data once and use it in multiple ways, making you more productive and effective.•


Seth Wilson is a partner at Hume Smith Geddes Green & Simmons LLP in Indianapolis. In addition to practicing law, he helps manage the day-to-day technology operations of the firm, and frequently speaks and advises on legal technology issues. The opinions expressed are those of the author.


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