Once again, a friendly reminder: The next time you're tempted to send a nasty, exasperated, or snippy e-mail, pause, take a deep breath, and think again. Then consider the tale of local lawyers William A. Korman and Dianna L. Abdala.
Korman was miffed that Abdala notified him by e-mail this month that, after tentatively agreeing to work at his law firm, she changed her mind. Her reason: ''The pay you are offering would neither fulfill me nor support the lifestyle I am living."
In his e-mail reply, Korman told Abdala that her decision not to have told him in person ''smacks of immaturity and is quite unprofessional," and noted that in anticipation of her arrival, he had ordered stationery and business cards for her, reformatted a computer, and set up an e-mail account. Nevertheless, he wrote, ''I sincerely wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors."
Her curt retort: ''A real lawyer would have put the contract into writing and not exercised any such reliance until he did so."
His: ''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?"
Abdala's final three-word response: ''bla bla bla."
That's when the exchange, confirmed as authentic yesterday by Korman and Abdala, began whipping through cyberspace, landing in e-mail in-boxes around the city and country, and, eventually, across the Atlantic.
In short order, it has become yet another cautionary tale that you should definitely not put in an e-mail anything you wouldn't want the rest of the world to read.
Think former FEMA chief Michael Brown (''Can I quit now?"), indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff (''we need to get some $ from those monkeys!!!!"), and assorted Enron employees (''This week is not good. I have too large a pile of documents to shred").
''It almost sounds too obvious, but I'll say it: You should never write an e-mail that you are not willing to see preserved forever in history," said Boston Bar Association president-elect Jack Cinquegrana, who frequently handles cases that use e-mail as evidence. ''The dangers created by this new world we live in, where everything is recorded for history, are not only that you could be second-guessed at every stage in the context of a civil dispute or government investigation, but that your reputation can be affected by words you don't think you're preserving for posterity -- but really are."
The e-mail exchange between Korman, 36, a former Suffolk County prosecutor, and Abdala, 24, a 2004 graduate of Suffolk University Law School, has circulated so widely that each of them said they have received several hundred inquiries about it from as far away as Europe. Among the questions Korman has fielded are whether the back-and-forth is real (it is) and whether the job is still available (it is not). He received an e-mail from a young lawyer in Kansas apologizing on behalf of young lawyers nationwide.
The exchange became public when Korman sent it to a colleague, who asked if he could forward it elsewhere. ''You can e-mail this to whomever you want," Korman responded. From there, it took flight.
Korman, reached yesterday at his Park Plaza law office, and Abdala, reached at her Watertown home, agree on the basic facts of their short-lived association. Both said Abdala responded to a job advertisement that Korman posted on the online service Craig's List for a criminal defense associate at his year-old firm, Korman & Associates, which consisted of two lawyers. Both said that after a first interview, Abdala said she would accept the job if it were offered to her. Both said that during a second interview, Korman told Abdala he would not be able to pay her as much as he had told her in the first interview; neither would disclose dollar amounts.
They differ on whether, at the end of the second meeting, Abdala accepted the job. Korman said he believes Abdala did, and that they even set a start date, which would have been yesterday. Abdala said there was ''no clear contract or agreement" and she still wanted to ponder the offer. She said she ultimately decided not to take the job because the reduced salary ''might have been realistic for other people to survive on, but I like nicer things. I like the finer things in life."
''I take no issue with why she chose not to work here," said Korman, a 1995 Boston University School of Law graduate. ''But to then insult me by saying I'm not a real lawyer -- that's offensive. ... Here's a woman who's just starting her career, and that she had the unmitigated gall to send an e-mail like that blew me away."
Abdala, who described herself as a ''trust fund baby," was admitted to the Massachusetts bar last year and said that since then she has ''just been taking it easy" because ''I worked hard in school." She decided to respond to Korman's job posting because ''I wanted to establish somewhat of a career for myself," she said. ''No one wants to be living off daddy." Abdala's father, George S. Abdala, is a Springfield lawyer.
Abdala said she is now working for herself by renting space from a lawyer on Franklin Street in Boston, where she will take court-appointed cases and do private criminal defense work.
Abdala said she has no regrets about the e-mail exchange. She said she has reported Korman to the Board of Bar Overseers for ''unprofessional and unethical" conduct for forwarding her e-mail to an outside party. She also said she believes that Korman's remark about Boston's ''small legal community" was tantamount to ''threatening my legal career," and that he circulated the e-mails as a ''cheap ploy to bring more business to his firm."
Threatening Abdala ''certainly wasn't my intention," Korman said. ''My goal wasn't to put her on the defensive, but simply to say there's a strong likelihood, given the small size of the criminal defense bar, that our paths would cross again." Korman acknowledges he sent the e-mail to a colleague, and said he did so because ''it was so shocking and unbelievable."
''All I did," he added, ''was forward a non-privileged, non-client communication to somebody who then chose to forward it along. I really don't see where the ethical breach is."
Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.