Email Scandals

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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With the Supreme Court’s 2013 term concluding on Monday, many Americans are assessing how they feel about the judicial branch of their government. Even if you are still reeling about some of the decisions made recently by the least dangerous branch, don’t forget the executive. The president and his agencies can also make you wonder how the American experiment is panning out.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton issued an order to hear oral arguments from lawyers representing the Internal Revenue Service and the conservative nonprofit True the Vote. True the Vote is one of the conservative groups claiming IRS improperly targeted its application for nonprofit status based on the group’s political and philosophical affiliation. True the Vote filed a motion for a preliminary injunction and expedited discovery on Monday, calling for an independent forensics examination of any IRS hard drives, servers, or other computer hardware involved in the government agency’s possible targeting of conservative nonprofits’ applications for tax-exempt status. It wants an outside computer expert to try to ascertain how and when any electronic evidence, such as former IRS Commissioner Lois Lerner’s emails, may have been lost. Also, it would be great if the government didn’t spoliate — I mean “recycle” — any more evidence….

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Yesterday we wrote about a managing partner’s abrupt departure from her firm — a departure that the remaining members of management noted in a somewhat snarky email.

At the time, we didn’t know where she was headed. Now we know her destination — and we can understand why some of her former colleagues might be bent out of shape over her leaving.

Where did this prominent partner land, and what might happen to the firm she left behind?

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Here at Above the Law, we love ourselves a good departure memo. If a great one makes its way into your inbox, please feel free to send our way.

People write departure memos so they can frame their farewells — explain why they’re leaving, provide their new contact information, and thank the people who need to be thanked. But what about if a partner — a managing partner, no less, and one involved in a summer associate scandal from a few years ago — just quits without explanation?

In that case, the remaining members of management write her departure memo for her. And oh what a departure memo….

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Stanford grads chilling around campus while studying for the bar exam received the grim news that the school was cutting off their access to the gym and pool. Not a huge shock since these folks are technically no longer students. Is this worth making a big deal out of? Meh. I mean, they’ve just indebted themselves to the tune of $130K+, so it’s not entirely unreasonable for the school to let them take a swim for an extra month. Especially for the subset of students still paying to live on-campus as opposed to just living in the area. On the other hand, school’s over. You have to expect to leave the nest some time, kids.

In any event, nothing engenders more sympathy for a cause than an over-the-top, petty response from a bureaucrat drunk on her own meager power. As they say, fights in academia are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.

And the dean and students trade barbs over a string of emails….

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