Fraught With Peril

Those of you who have participated in my Power of Professional Protocol program have heard me use the phrase “fraught with peril.” Fraught with peril. How often do you say this phrase during the course of the day? Probably never, but I’m willing to bet that you do engage in at least one very dangerous activity.

Which activity is this? Why, e-mail of course.

In Boston we were recently regaled with the forwarded e-mail thread entitled “Bla, Bla, Bla” which took place between attorneys William A. Korman and Dianna L. Abdala. The Boston Globe covered the story in 2 e-mailers get testy, and hundreds read every word. It succinctly and precisely illustrates some of the dangers when communication takes place via e-mail. Let us dissect this e-mail for its obvious and not so obvious faux pas.

E-mail one ~

-----Original Message-----
From: Dianna Abdala [mailto:]
Sent: Friday, February 03, 2006 9:23 PM
Subject: Thank you

Dear Attorney Korman,

At this time, I am writing to inform you that I will not be accepting your offer.

After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that the pay you are offering would neither fulfill me nor support the lifestyle I am living in light of the work I would be doing for you. I have decided instead to work for myself, and reap 100% of the benefits that I sew.

Thank you for the interviews.

Dianna L. Abdala, Esq.
E-mail is a poor choice for declining a tentatively accepted position. According to the Boston Globe article, the position had been verbally offered and the salary had been reduced between the initial interaction and the offer. Even though the offer was never put in writing, once one has verbally accepted an offer, the proper declination would be an ear-to-ear conversation over the telephone during regular working hours. Given the applicant was a recent law school graduate; we can excuse her poor choice of message medium. What should not be forgiven is her obvious misspelling at the end of the e-mail.

E-mail two ~
----- Original Message -----
From: William A. Korman
To: 'Dianna Abdala'
Sent: Monday, February 06, 2006 12:15 PM
Subject: RE: Thank you

Dianna -

Given that you had two interviews, were offered and accepted the job (indeed, you had a definite start date), I am surprised that you chose an e-mail and a 9:30 PM voicemail message to convey this information to me. It smacks of immaturity and is quite unprofessional. Indeed, I did rely upon your acceptance by ordering stationary and business cards with your name, reformatting a computer and setting up both internal and external e-mails for you here at the office. While I do not quarrel with your reasoning, I am extremely disappointed in the way this played out. I sincerely wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

       - Will Korman
Here, Will’s point that the e-mail communiqué is inappropriate is weak, since his admonishment of Dianna was also done via e-mail! I am sure the irony was completely lost on Will. He should never have written this e-mail. Ideally, he should have printed out Dianna’s e-mail to add to her file and then deleted it. If he truly felt he needed to respond, his answer should have been as brief as possible. Something along the lines of “We are disappointed you have chosen not to join our firm. We wish you all the best as you journey through your career.” Apparently Will’s spelling is also not up to par as “stationary” should have been “stationery.” For him to nit-pick her e-mail and then to try to make her feel guilty for his business expenses is immature, unprofessional and self-indulgent.

E-mail three ~
-----Original Message-----
From: Dianna Abdala [mailto:]
Sent: Monday, February 06, 2006 4:01 PM
To: William A. Korman
Subject: Re: Thank you

A real lawyer would have put the contract into writing and not exercised any such reliance until he did so.

Again, thank you.
Again, Dianna should have printed out Will’s e-mail for her file and then hit delete. Her e-mail only points out the obvious. Of course if he was serious about offering her the position, especially as an attorney, he would have sent her a written offer letter. And if she was serious about accepting it, she would have requested a written letter before giving her word. The needling with the word “real” was quite unnecessary.

E-mail four ~
----- Original Message -----
From: William A. Korman
To: 'Dianna Abdala'
Sent: Monday, February 06, 2006 4:18 PM
Subject: RE: Thank you

Thank you for the refresher course on contracts. This is not a bar exam question. You need to realize that this is a very small legal community, especially the criminal defense bar. Do you really want to start pissing off more experienced lawyers at this early stage of your career?
And yet again, Will should have put his ego aside and just let this issue drop. Sometimes deleting is the better part of valor. But that did not happen. He felt that being snide and nasty would better this situation. In addition, as the established lawyer, he decided to threaten this young attorney.

E-mail five ~
-----Original Message-----
From: Dianna Abdala [mailto:]
Sent: Monday, February 06, 2006 4:29 PM
To: William A. Korman
Subject: Re: Thank you

bla bla bla
To end the e-mail thread, Dianna felt it best to complete the regression from adult professional to middle school child. Unfortunately for her, again her spell check was not working as “bla” is spelled “blah.” Deleting would have been so much easier and so much smarter.

E-mail six ~
-----Original Message-----
From: William A. Korman [mailto:]
Sent: Friday, February 10, 2006 7:59 AM
To: 'David Breen'
Subject: FW: Thank you

Did I already forward this to you?
Will, finally recognizing that replying to Dianna would not be the best course of action, makes yet another questionable decision to forward the entire e-mail thread to a friend. From there, this e-mail made its way around the internet, to The Boston Globe, and to my inbox.

What can we learn from Dianna’s and Will’s mistakes? Well, quite a bit.
  1. When offered a position, do not accept or reject it until you have an offer letter in writing. (Any attorney worth their weight will tell you a verbal offer is worth the paper on which it is written!)
  2. When declining a previously accepted position, it is best to do so in a conversation rather than in an e-mail.
  3. When you receive an upsetting e-mail, wait at least 24 hours before responding.
  4. When it is apparent that an e-mail conversation has digressed, just delete it. Do not respond in anger.
  5. When writing an e-mail, presume it can and will be forwarded to others. Be very aware of what you write.
  6. E-mail is, in fact, fraught with peril.
  7. Lastly, please remember, that no matter what, two rudes do not make a right!