Email Scandals

Sometime around about 5 years ago, I noticed people starting putting this at the end of their emails:

consider

That’s a webdings font character of a tree and not an image file, in case you were wondering.

Whoever the first person was who did this clearly lived in a different world than me — a world where lawyers would get emails on their computers and would just keep printing them out and putting them into binders to read later. In that world, I could see why someone would want to speak up. On planet Earth, however, that is not the case. Emails occasionally get printed to get filed in a correspondence file, or they get printed as trial exhibits, but that’s about it. They are only a tiny fraction of the paper lawyers waste. This is the Kony 2012 of the environmental battles — it’s a noble war, but a pointless battle. There are many more righteous green battles to be fought in the environmental war than the faux epidemic of lawyers who refuse to stop printing their emails. Instead the “please consider the environment” email signature is more like one of those “I voted” stickers — both serve no purpose other than proclaiming your self-righteousness for performing a civic duty.

In order for that disclaimer to have served a beneficial purpose to the environment, there had to be a conversation just like this somewhere:

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Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffreyA few weeks ago, Pennsylvania learned that its justice system spends all its time trading porn over the Internet when it isn’t taking kickbacks for wrongfully jailing children. This all came to light as part of the ongoing investigation into Why-Did-None-of-You-Do-Anything-About-Jerry-Sanduskygate because of course it did. You can’t be expected to do anything about an inveterate child molester when you’ve got one hand… well, doing other things.

The investigation found its way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, where Justice Seamus McCaffrey received around 60 of these emails and forwarded at least 8 to someone at the AG’s office.

As of yesterday, Justice McCaffrey is temporarily out of a job courtesy of a salacious Per Curiam Order denouncing the alleged traffic in “highly demeaning portrayals of members of various segments of the population, including women, elderly persons, and uniformed school girls.”

Perfect. And it turns out trading porn is the least of the allegations against Justice McCaffrey….

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'Why is your keyboard so sticky, Your Honor?'

‘Why is your keyboard so sticky, Your Honor?’

Earlier this month, news of the Pennsylvania “porngate” scandal spread like wildfire. Hundreds of pornographic and racy emails were exchanged between government employees and officials from 2008 to 2012, and when the public found out that a state supreme court justice was involved, the situation grew even stickier.

When Seamus McCaffery, the judge in question, was initially fingered in the investigation, he wasn’t interested in speaking to the media. “Not only do I not have any comment,” he said, “but since when does the news media pry into personal emails?” When a judge’s personal emails to prosecutors and judges include graphic pictures and videos of salacious sex acts, everyone wants a peek.

Needless to say, Chief Justice Ron Castille of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is pissed, and he’s taken to the presses to condemn his colleague — not only because he didn’t get to play in McCaffery’s sexy reindeer games, but because McCaffery’s actions have cast a “cloud over all of the courts.”

In response to Castille’s comments on the situation, McCaffery has issued a response. He may be sorry about the porn, but he’s definitely not sorry that he’s calling out Castille on his judicial douchebaggery…

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‘Why is your keyboard so sticky, Your Honor?’

The scandalous “porngate” controversy has been brewing for a while now in Pennsylvania. If you’re not familiar with what happened, it seems that hundreds of pornographic and racy emails were exchanged between dozens of state government employees and officials from 2008 to 2012. The vast majority of those emails were sent or read on state email accounts. Thus far, the names of eight former employees of the attorney general’s office have been released as being involved in the erotic email exchange, and two people have already resigned from their positions.

Late last week, the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court demanded information on whether any of the justices seated on his bench had taken part in any of the sexy email swaps. Days later, we now know that at least one of the justices may have been improperly banging his gavel alongside state officials.

Which justice allegedly traded sexually explicit emails with his colleagues?

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As clear as I can tell, Becker & Poliakoff lawyer and out-homophobe Walter Kubitz, author of the now-infamous “gay plague of AIDS” email, still has a job. I’m not at all sure why. Becker & Poliakoff keeps saying that such divisive views about gays and lesbians do not reflect the firm’s “core values” and will not be tolerated… AND YET the firm clearly values Kubitz enough that he is still being tolerated by the firm.

Is Kubitz just a fantastic attorney that Becker can’t afford to lose? The man has been working for 30 years and still hasn’t made “shareholder” at the firm, so I don’t think he can be SO good that the firm just can’t do without him. What kind of power does this guy have? Jesus, does Kubitz have photos of Becker shareholders getting gay with Santa Claus? Maybe firm management doesn’t understand that pictures of them getting busy with each other at a firm retreat would be CONSIDERABLY LESS DAMAGING to the firm’s reputation than continuing to employ such a proud homophobe.

Becker just put up a statement on their website about the Kubitz situation. The statement doesn’t actually say what Kubitz did, doesn’t contain an apology from Kubitz, and hides behind religious toleration rhetoric when that’s not even the point of what happened here. Let’s give it a close read….

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As an openly gay attorney at Becker & Poliakoff for over nine years, I know that the email sent by this attorney does not reflect the core values of this firm. In fact, Becker & Poliakoff is committed to diversity as reflected by the firm’s hiring practices, outreach and diversity scholarships awarded annually.

Michael Gongora, a shareholder at Becker & Poliakoff, explaining how outreach and scholarships might help future Becker lawyers learn where AIDS comes from. The firm says it has taken “immediate and severe” action against Walter Kubitz in light of his homophobic firm-wide email, but still refuses to announce the nature of the action. Kubitz’s profile is still up on the firm website, so I’m wondering if Becker management understands what “immediate and severe” even means.

The last few years have helped me get very used to the passive-aggressive bigotry that homophobes still think they can get away with. “Just believing” that marriage is between a man and a woman conveniently leaves out the stunning antipathy to gay love and civil rights… but it doesn’t sound as “hateful” as it is. And the idea that gay marriage can somehow threaten straight marriages sounds more stupid than bigoted, even though it’s both.

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to search very long for harsh anti-gay rhetoric. But in the refreshingly genteel environment of educated society, old-school, anti-gay hate speech comes off as particularly harsh.

Old-school, anti-gay hate speech captured over law firm email is downright surprising given the current environment. But then again, bigoted statements that a senior lawyer sent out to all attorneys at a law firm come back all the way around to “incredibly stupid.”

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this stupid, bigoted, dumbass, hate-filled, verbal feces slathered all over law firm email is… quaint.

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Does being a Biglaw partner mean never having to say you’re sorry… for annoying, rude, or stupid firm-wide emails? When associates hit “reply all” to firm-wide emails, they sometimes wind up in hot water. But when partners send their random musings far and wide, their colleagues often praise them.

Sure, occasionally “reply all” emails from partners don’t go over well. Sometimes the messages come across as lecherous: “I admire your gumption, especially when you’re in a tight dress.” Sometimes they sound disloyal: “Why are we both still at this firm?”

Today’s Biglaw partner “reply all” doesn’t rise to those heights of cringe-worthiness. But it’s still bad enough to be worth sharing with you….

(Please note the UPDATE added below, which puts the partner’s email in proper context.)

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Making people think you are not horrible is a full-time job for lawyers. Gallup did a poll on the most trustworthy professions in the United States and, you guessed it, lawyers are near the bottom. You know who’s the most trusted profession? Doctors and nurses, and they are the number 3 cause of death in the United States. Even historically, two hundred years ago, lawyers were drafting and signing the Declaration of Independence and doctors were using leeches to heal people. I’m pretty sure that, on top of killing fewer people, the average person will be overcharged in their life more by doctors and nurses than by lawyers, but whatever. So, again, making people think we are not horrible is an uphill battle for us.

The Internet is helping some of us tip the scales in one way or the other. Each one of these topics could be their own article, but for now, I wanted to give you a short primer on how to shrug off the shroud of horribleness we have as lawyers.

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Whether you practice in Biglaw or a boutique, knowing how to email is a critical skill. In fact, the quality of a lawyer’s emails is an excellent indicator of that lawyer’s future career prospects (excepting those lawyers fortunate to be born with a guaranteed multimillion-dollar book of business through family connections). This should not be a surprise, considering how email is the single most used form of communication for lawyers. Yes, technology has liberated us from a full day’s work (with the help of a secretary) in order to prepare what would now be considered a routine client communication in the form of a fancy letter. But the need for a similar level of care in preparing today’s written communications has not changed. Show me an associate’s emails, and I (along with other former or current Biglaw partners) will have a very respectable success rate in guessing whether or not the associate is partnership material, even in the absence of other information about the author.

I have sent many thousands of emails in my legal career. I do not know how many of them would have been considered “good” emails, but I’d like to think that most of them were. I was fortunate, since I worked for a partner who stressed to me early on the importance of sending “good” emails.

What is a “good” email?

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