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Saturday, March 04, 2006

A LAWYERLY E-MAIL EXCHANGE

An e-mail exchange between a lawyer and a prospective hire has been circulating on the Internet. It starts off with prospect Dianna Abdala e-mailing William Korman to let him know that she is turning down a job offer because the pay offered wasn't sufficient for the lifestyle to which she was accustomed. Korman responds by e-mailing her that her not telling him this in person is immature and unprofessional.

She retorts by telling him that a "real lawyer" would have made the original offer clearer. Then he asks her if she really wants to "start pissing off" established lawyers as she starts out in her career. Her response: "bla bla bla."

Korman proceeds to circulate the e-mail exchange to a few lawyer acquaintances who share it with a few more, and so the story goes. The entire e-mail exchange can be found at http://kirixchi.livejournal.com/255295.html
.

How would you parse the rights and wrongs here? Was Abdala wrong inusing e-mail to turn down the job offer? Was Korman wrong to circulate the e-mail exchange? Was either justified in his/her actions? Were both of them? Or is there enough blame to go around?

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Call me old fashioned, but I consider it an extreme breach of netiquette to broadcast a private email sent me without permission of the sender.

I also consider it impolite at best to accept a job offer, agree on a start date and then have the prospective employee change his/her mind at the last minute. In most organizations, setting a start date initiates the process of ensuring the new employee will have work space and needed tools (PC, etc) in place.

People also need to be aware that email is NOT a guaranteed delivery mechanism for a message. I know that it is often treated that way these days, but as a system administrator, I am well aware of all the ways that email delivery can go awry.

It would seem to me that both parties to this exchange are at fault.

Jim - Columbus, OH
Column read in The Columbus Dispatch

Anonymous said...

My, my, my. First rule of law - be very careful what you put in writing! "Bla, bla, bla?" Choosing phrases like this can damage one's reputation beyond repair.

While Ms. Abdala has a right to rethink acceptance of a job offer, her method of informing Mr. Korman of her change of mind was unprofessional and discourteous, given the time and effort already invested by Mr. Korman. The situation called for a personal phone call (not voice mail) or formal letter rather than an email. The tone of her email was also rude. She should simply have declined the position, not implied that it was underpaid.

Forwarding it to a colleague was a breach of etiquette on Mr. Korman's part, but I would stop short of calling it unethical, since Ms. Abdala chose to use email to convey her message. It today's world, anyone who thinks email is private is a fool. Mr. Korman merely forwarded Ms. Abdala's own words - the negative impressions created by the exchange are her responsibility. As in any industry, lawyers rely on each other for information about fellow lawyers. She's tripped at the starting gate in a big way.

Furthermore, I don't think it's going to do more damage than this candidate will do to herself in the real world. Her emails show immaturity and a tremendous lack of judgment. No doubt this will become evident to any future employer, either in the interview process or shortly after hire.

I'm amused by her intention to work for herself and "reap 100% of the benefits I sew (sic)." Assuming she's not actually intending to start a tailoring business, she's in for a rude awakening. A law degree doesn't make one a lawyer. Real world training, from someone with experience, does. I predict she'll be desperately looking for a job within a year, and will find it difficult to find one in law, given her hubris (and her writing skills).

Lisa Metzger
Column read in the Orange County, CA Register

LillyDog said...

Regarding Lisa Metzger's post, I predict Ms. A. will be making the talk show circuit a year from now and have a big fat check in her bank account from the lawsuit she'll probably file and win.

Unlike the other two poster's (whose submissions were so well written it's an embarrassment to attempt to follow them), I see nothing wrong in general in using email for formal communications like turning down a job offer. Like them, in THIS case, I do think she was in the wrong because she had already acccepted the job.

I unequivocally think it was wrong to forward this email to anyone. It turned an annoying wart of an interchange into a triage situation. He has opened himself up to being sued. He has opened his firm up to being perceived as an operation unable or unwilling to value confidentiality (if they allowed it in this case, will they allow it in others, etc.). Having said that, I'll also say his first response to her email was both professional and restrained and he should get some kudos for that.

Neither of these people was particularly ethical or intelligent. Is the Ethics Fairy off weeping into a Jim Beam rye on the rocks at the newly reopened Plough and Stars over this one? Probably not. Slaps on the wrist for everyone and a dictionary for Ms. Snippy.

Anonymous said...

In general, I agree with most of the comments already made about the exchange in question.

I believe that Ms. Abdala should have found a better (and more TIMELY) way of backing out of her agreement. I believe her comments and actions were immature from start to finish.

I also believe Mr. Korman should not have forwarded the emails; there is no question he knew the damage they could inflict on Ms. Abdala's [questionable] reputation. Therefore, we can only surmise he indeed did hope to damage that reputation.

I only disagree with one comment. lillydog said that Mr. Korman's "first response to her email was both professional and restrained." I felt he went too far in enumerating all the things he had done to prepare for Ms. Abdala's arrival. He may have been trying to elicit remorse from her but it came across as petulant. It would have sufficed him to simply say he'd spent a considerable amount of time and expense getting things ready for her.

Elizabeth DeVivo
Column read online

Anonymous said...

My name is William Severns. As you ask, my hometown is Cambridge, Ohio. However, for the last 30-odd years I have been a legal resident of Columbus, Ohio, where I am a regular reader of your column in the Columbus Dispatch.

In the event that demographics are of any interest to you (or to the intern who is probably reading the responses to your column), I am a Caucasian, 55 year old male, married with two grown children. I have been an attorney for 30 years, and a CPA for 25 years. I work in government auditing, where this background is particularly useful.

In considering the exchange between Mr. Korman and Ms. Abdala, I would first note that I do not see where Mr. Korman actually states that he bases his assessment of Ms. Abdala as immature and unprofessional upon her failure to tell him in person of her rejection of the job offer. What he does say is that her manner of communicating the rejection "smacks of immaturity and is quite unprofessional."

Based on the information available to me, I consider his conclusion, nevertheless, reasonable. While I am not of the opinion that an "in person" communication was necessary, a telephone call or letter would have been preferable. In any event, communication in more detail, with some expression of regret or apology, would have been more appropriate.

I consider Mr. Korman's response appropriate, given the apparent inconvenience to him. It was to Ms. Abdala's benefit that someone advise her early in her professional career as to appropriate behavior.

I consider her response in return (A real lawyer . . . ) a greater error than her initial e-mail, indicating a superficial understanding of the law and a total lack of understanding of professionalism. This is reinforced by the final "bla bla bla."

As to any controversy over Mr. Korman's subsequent circulation of the exchange of e-mails, I wouldn't have bothered, but I don't see an ethical or legal issue.

The ironic moral of the story: "[W]hatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Galatians Chapter 6, Verse 7 (with apologies for the gender specific language to any who may be offended."

Thanks for the enjoyable columns.

Bill

Anonymous said...

I agree with William Korman that Dianna Abdala's e-mail response to a job offer was unprofessional. However, he trumped her in immaturity by responding in kind and by circulating the resulting exchange among his peers.

Had he wished to let the legal community know that she might be a difficult employee, he could have circulated her e-mail sans comment, though even that is over the top, given their respective status.

They both end up looking childish and spiteful.

Michelle Geissbuhler
Worthington, OH
The Columbus Dispatch

Jeffrey Seglin said...

My comments on the Email exchange:

1) If the offer was in writing, the reply shouls be in the same form, Email or Snail mail.

2) The offer should be declined with thanks without editorial comment.

3) The Email recipient/prospective employer should not have responded beyond a thank you for you prompt reply.

4) If this isn't a put on or hoax, then you can't fix stupid would seem to fit.

John W. Minton,Jr.
St. Louis, MO.

Anonymous said...

In this electronic age you are foolish to think you have privacy when you push the 'send' button. I think it is perfectly reasonable, albeit impersonal, to decline a job offer with an email. I thought the tone of her original email was peevish but as part of her 'personnel' file should not have been published. I think it is in bad form to forward an email without the consent of the author.

Please feel free to publish.

Sincerely,

Wendy Hagmaier
Fullerton CA

Anonymous said...

What a world we all live in today. I tell my friends all of the time, that this thing called technology is going to destroy us all. We use it in very careless ways.
As for the attorneys involved in this scenerio, both are guilty. If Mr. Korman offered this woman a position in his practice, he should have drawn up a contract for her. The contract should have a start date and also a date of withdrawal should she change her mind. This simple tool would have eliminated all of this hoop-la!

In the meantime, there is a thng called a verbal contract. If she agreed to the offer given, then she is obliged to honor it. Also, in this case she should have stated that she wanted a certain amount of time to carefully reveiw her acceptance. Of course, I don't understand why she would do this. She sounds a bit obnoxious to me!

In the meantime, Mr. Korman should not have had any cards, and etc. developed for her until she had signed a written contract. What was the BIG HURRY ANYWAY????? Is she that good???