Tuesday, February 21, 2006

In Defense of Dianna (It's A BlackJack Story)

So, in the spirit of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em", we at Sassy Travels have decided to take up the highly controversial issue of the e-mail battle between a young lawyer in Boston (Dianna Abdala) and her would-be employer (William A. Korman).

A tantalizing topic of discussion in blogs and newspapers far and wide, the alleged e-mail thread is set forth below for your review. I say "alleged" because there are some people out there who claim Korman manipulated the original messages to make it look like Dianna improperly used "sew" instead of "sow" and that, in the original version, Korman misspelled "stationery". Anyway, here's the version that's been circling the world:

--–Original Message--–

From: Dianna Abdala
Sent: Friday, February 03, 2006 9:23 PM
To: William Korman
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.

-- 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 stationery 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

--Original Message--–

From: Dianna Abdala

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.


--– 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?

--Original Message--–

From: Dianna Abdala
Sent: Monday, February 06, 2006 4:29 PM
To: William A. Korman
Subject: Re: Thank you

bla bla bla


[Ed. Note: And here we pause for a moment so Sassy can stop laughing out loud ...]

Korman reportedly forwarded the foregoing to at least one other member of the local Bar and its widespread circulation ensued, casting into the spotlight the issue of lawyers, and e-mails, and employment.

Look, I'll be the first to admit that, in subsequent interviews, Dianna - a self-described "trust fund baby" - comes off sounding like a spoiled brat. [Ed. Note: It takes one to know one ....] That being said, however, Sassy would defend Dianna's actions on a number of levels:

1. What's wrong with declining a job offer via e-mail or voice-mail?

After all, when an employer decides not to hire you, they don't typically come over to your house for a face-to-face letdown. No. To the contrary, if you're lucky and they actually do get back to you, they send you a letter (and via snail-mail, by the way, so you sit around waiting to hear from them for days, if not weeks, while your life is in limbo and you're potentially juggling other offers) with a bunch of crap in it about "keeping your resume on file" and "best of luck in your future endeavors" and so on. I know this because, as a former law firm HR Manager, I've sent that ludicrous letter dozens of times. And I say, if it's good for the goose, it's good for the gander.

Besides - this whole concept that you should inform people face-to-face of your employment decision is a crock. [Ed. Note: "Crock" is a technical term and should be used sparingly.] I mean, at the end of the day, what difference does it make if you decline the job in person, over the phone, or via e-mail? The result is the same: You ain't gonna be working there. And, personally, as an employment lawyer, I prefer to see things in writing so there's no confusion as to the reasons for someone's decision.

When I quit my job in Delaware after a six-year relationship with the firm, I did so via a hastily typed e-mail. A friend later asked why I resigned that way as opposed to coming into the office and discussing my decision in person with the powers that be. Well - let's see: For starters, when I made the decision to quit, I was stark naked and dripping wet. (The epiphany came to me while I was showering.) Secondly, I was running late for a flight to Florida and didn't have time to drive over to the office on the off-chance the partners were actually at work. Thirdly, I wanted to publicize my rather drastic decision before I had a chance to think rationally and change my mind. (By the way, I gave them 3 months' notice, so save your e-mails).

And finally, I just didn't see the point of having some uncomfortable conversation with partners I respected and admired when, no matter what, I was leaving the firm. What I mean is, it wasn't like I was quitting because I hated the job and, therefore, needed to meet with them so I could vent my anger and frustration. Quite to the contrary - I loved working with those guys! I quit because I fell MADLY in love with a dude (y'all know him as The Cap'n) and I simply had to be with him, even though we'd only met 5 weeks earlier. How do you explain that crazy turn of events to a bunch of ambitious, career-driven, law firm bigwigs? The one partner I did talk to, responded thus: "I'm sick and tired of all you smart, otherwise intelligent women giving up what could be stellar careers over some guy." Oh yeah - like I needed to hear that from 2 or 3 other male partners! Oh and by the way, that partner's comment was sent to me via e-mail ....

2. What's wrong with "pissing off" more experienced lawyers?

Look, I'm tired of hearing about how much "respect" older, more experienced practitioners deserve from young lawyers. Bollocks! Listen to me, young lawyers: Don't be intimidated by a bunch of old dudes just because they've been out of law school longer than you. That's like giving props to another hooker just because she got to the corner before you did. Arrival time notwithstanding, you could probably teach her a thing or two. I say, respect yourself first. Respect for others should be triaged on an as-earned basis.

If more experienced lawyers want to be respected, they should treat their neophyte counterparts with more caution and care. After all, and if for no other reason, the elders of the legal profession should realize that they are responsible for their legacy. The way young lawyers behave is a reflection of the way they are trained and treated by more experienced lawyers. So, instead of whining (yes, I said whining) about the last minute nature of Dianna's decision, Korman should have gracefully accepted the news and moved on. But rather than take the high road, Korman responded in a way that (and to use his word) "smacks" of desperation and bitterness. I mean, it seems pretty clear to me that Korman had little or no fear of (and to use his words again) "pissing off" Dianna when he attempted to pull the old bait and switch by originally offering her one salary and then, during the next interview, reducing it because he decided he wanted to hire two lawyers instead of one. And then, when she declined his new offer, he basically threatened to have her blacklisted by the Bar!?!?! Tsk tsk tsk. Shame on you, you more experienced lawyer.

Yes, Dianna's suggestion that a "real lawyer" would have gotten the employment agreement in writing was ill-advised and snarkey. But, let's face it - she was right. After all, who told Korman to go ordering stationery? Most law firms wait until you've been working there for a while before they get business cards printed up in your name. (And by the way, the delay between your start date and your receipt of personalized stationery can be fraught with fear and loathing, a la: "Hey! How come Barbara got her business cards already? Don't they plan on me staying? Am I not good enough? Am I not worthy of the buff-colored card stock with linen overlay?")

3. What's wrong with changing your mind?

After all, it's a woman's prerogative, right? [Ed. Note: We believe Sassy is being sarcastic. Then again, we're not entirely sure.]

Look, even if Dianna originally accepted the recently-reduced offer and said she would start on the Monday after the SuperBowl (which, from this football fan's perspective, is hard to believe because why would anyone start a new job on the Monday after the SuperBowl? Heck, some of us didn't show up to the jobs we already have!), why couldn't Dianna simply change her mind?

Maybe she discussed her opportunities with someone else or got some advice (like, say, from a more experienced lawyer ...). Maybe she realized that Korman wasn't all he was cracked up to be. Maybe she thought some more about it and decided not to enter into a relationship with a man who offers one thing at the outset and then tries to modify the terms of the agreement to suit his own needs without any regard for hers, in which case, I say "smart woman" cuz the alternative path would have definitely led to divorce court, with him saying that he never promised to quit drinking and .... oh .... um .... I'm sorry .... I think I've lost track of what we're talking about here .....

4. What's wrong with burning bridges?

Seriously, some bridges need to be burned because they lead to degradation and compromise.

I once quit a job in total disgust. I did it by phone at the end of a very protracted argument between me and the law firm's Managing Partner over whether I could take a weekend off (yes, I said weekend) to attend a friend's wedding in the Bahamas. I had requested the time off when I accepted the job offer (a mere 4 months earlier), and even made it part of the conditions of my employment. As the wedding day approached, I sent out a "reminder" e-mail, alerting everyone I worked with to my impending absence. And then the fight began:

"I don't remember you asking for this time off in advance," claimed the Managing Partner. (Yeah - silly me, I didn't get it in writing. I actually took their word for it when they said they would have no problem with me taking a weekend off, especially as I was entitled to 4 weeks' vacation.)

"Well, I did tell you I needed this weekend off. It's my best friend's wedding and I am the matron of honor/father of the bride," I replied. (Don't ask about the "father of the bride" bit. Just trust me when I say I was, in a way.)

"I don't remember that," Managing Partner said. And so on, back and forth, until I mused,

"You know what? It seems like me taking this weekend off is going to inconvenience you or, at the very least, cause a lot of tension, and I certainly don't want that."

"Harrrumph! You are right about that!" snapped Managing Partner.

"Yeah, I know," I cooed. "So here's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna go ahead and quit."

Stunned silence on the other end of the phone. And then, in the most petulant, whiny voice ever, Managing Partner proclaimed,

"Fine." (Like I needed his ok to quit that lousy job ....)

And we hung up our respective phones.

Later that day, I received a long-winded e-mail from the firm's "employment lawyer", requesting that I not discuss my resignation with anyone else (and by "anyone else" I assume he meant "younger, impressionable associates who might just see the folly of their ways in being slaves to the billable hour and get riled up enough to quit also"). I had no problem with the gag order but before I could respond to that e-mail, I received another one, this time from a very Senior Partner. This e-mail, dear reader(s), was sent to me in error and proffered the following tidbit from said Senior Partner:

"With all her experience in HR, I can't believe she actually thought we'd give her the time off!"

Ahhhh ... yes! What was I thinking?!? Did I really think they'd give me what they promised or what I bargained for! Damn all that experience working as an HR manager or Labor & Employment attorney!

Yep. E-mail can be a fickle friend, especially if you are a more experienced lawyer (as in, "old fart with limited computer skills") and don't realize that when you hit "Reply All" you send your words to everyone in the address box, including the former associate about whom you and your fellow partners are gossiping. (Yes, the Senior Partner's reply included various responsive e-mails about me from other partners at the firm).

Well, I simply forwarded the misguided missive back to the firm's "employment lawyer", adding in response to his gag order, "Hey - I'm ok with not discussing this situation with other associates at the firm, but perhaps you should tell your partner to be careful who he sends his emails to!"

I never heard another word. (However, I did get an unexpected paycheck the following month for the time I spent completing certain assignments after my resignation. I didn't want to leave any of my projects unfinished so I worked through Fourth of July weekend, well after I'd quit, to help out another, not so male mean, partner at the firm.)

In Sassy Summary:

What's my point? Well, I am not known for my tact or politeness or good manners. It's true. But I did learn a thing or two about professionalism from some of the more experienced attorneys I've worked with along the way, including those fine folks in Delaware who, in spite of my abrupt, love-laced departure from their firm, were willing to help me find new employment here in Florida. Thanks to them and to all the lawyers out there who truly try to improve the profession's image by teaching civility and grace to young associates. Charity begins at home.

But, I gotta tell ya - I'm dead sick of the notion that you have to "pay your dues" before you get any respect from the "old boys" network that the legal profession continues to be in many circles. I hate to say this out loud but, I wonder how this whole debacle would have played in Peoria if Dianna's name was Douglas ... (Discuss amongst yourselves and get back to me).

And Dianna, I say this to you: I don't for ONE SECOND regret any of my employment decisions over the years. I don't regret the substance of those decisions; I don't regret the way I delivered those decisions. My future, my friends, and my family come first. People will think of you what they want, no matter how you act, and no matter what they say after the fact. Just be true to yourself and live your life without regret.

As much as I tend to trash my ex-husband "Norman", there is one anecdote I'd like to share in which "Norman" is actually the voice of reason. I think it is fitting here:

One night, long ago, I was playing BlackJack in a casino in Puerto Rico while on vacation. "Norman" was home in Delaware. A lady (and I use the term loosely) from New Jersey was sitting to my right (i.e. I got dealt cards before she did). The dealer gave me two cards and, after some calculations that involved me counting on my fingers, I realized I had 13. The Jersey chick was dealt a 6 and a 4 (=10). I think the dealer was showing 12. Feeling lucky, I asked the dealer to give me another card.

"Hit me," I said proudly, having recently learned the term.

"Are you sure?" asked the friendly dealer.

"Oh yeahhhhhh," I replied drunkenly confidently.

And he hit me.

With a Jack.

So I busted with 23. The "lady" next to me went friggin' BALLISTIC.

"I can't believe you asked for another fucking card!!" she screeched. "You took my fucking Jack!" she spat. "You're a fucking retard!" she proclaimed. I just looked at her in astonishment, unwilling and unable to contradict any of her statements.

I forget how the game ended but I remember going back to my room and calling "Norman", who knew way more about BlackJack than I did. I was really upset by the Jersey girl's reaction. So I told "Norman" everything and how I was so worried that I had asked for a card when I shouldn't have and how I busted and I totally made that lady mad, etc. etc. In response, "Norman" asked one simple question,

"Whose money were you playing with? Hers or yours?"

Yeah! EXACTLY! And what an EXCELLENT point! (And one of the very few "Norman" would ever make again ... but that's a whole other story ....)

So, Dianna, when everyone is telling you that you screwed up your career, and all that other bullshite, just remember, it's your money, and they're your cards. You can play the game however the hell you please!

(Oh, and P.S., those of us who are more experienced attorneys don't say, "Bla bla bla." We say, "Yada yada yada." )

Signed,
Sassy Supporter


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4 comments:

The Boz said...

Sassy, you have really outdone yourself. An entertaining story turned into a valuable life lesson. ("Tonight, on a Very Special Sassy . . . .") Seriously, I will remember the "your money" teaching.

As for the lawyers' behavior, it all became clear as soon as I hit the disclosure that they're in criminal defense. Those guys are always comparing d*ck sizes.

Sassy said...

Boz-man:

What can I say? As always, your comments leave me terrified, knowing that someone with a brain (and a heart) actually reads the drunken drivel I draft. I mean, you're like the main reason I even bother to run a spell-check before publishing my posts!

And, you're right: Criminal defense lawyers have a lot of stereotypes to overcome. This shit ain't gonna help.

Power to the Peeps!

AnkleBone said...

wow

a big welcome back to the blogsphere (and a gracious thank - you for the great post)

Sassy said...

Boney! The West-Coastest with The Mostest! We're glad to be back! Thanks!