Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Yadda Yadda Yadda, Lawyer Style...

Here in our neck of the woods (that is the cold and wintry northeast), we are all abuzz in the legal community about an e-mail scandal.  Basically, a young, new attorney decided to decline a job offer (after possibly accepting it) at the very last minute and did so in a fairly bratty e-mail to her future (and more experienced) employer.  She told him that she was opening her own practice so that she could essentially "reap what I sew."  (She was not, by the way, opening a tailor shop).  He responded that although he did not take issue with her decision, he did have a problem with her delivery method.  She told him that real lawyers put contracts in writing-and he told her (in a fairly restrained way) that this was not a "bar exam question" and that her behavior would certainly not bode well for her in our fairly insular bar network.  She responded, "bla bla bla."  Which demonstrated a complete lack of H's and an overabundance of chutzpah if you ask me.

So why do we all know about it?  Well, like those old shampoo ads, the potential employer told two friends, and they told two friends and so on and so on.  Within three days some forwarded version of this exchange was probably found in every attorney in Boston's in box, complete with commentary from the folks who had read it along the way.  In my version, it appears that someone actually sent it back to our bratty seamstress along with a really long list of cc's.  I know that I then sent it to, among others, my husband (an environmental lawyer) and a former colleague serving over in Iraq with JAG. 

The next day, it was on the front page of the Boston Globe and last night I saw it on Fox news (please don't form any political judgments based on the fact we were watching Fox news; we don't have cable, CSI: Miami was a repeat and I find the Olympics kind of nerve-wracking).  Another faculty member here saw it on a national news broadcast also.

So, (and here is where I finally link this to ASP), what is the role of an academic support program in fostering professionalism among students?  Last week, before the whole "bla bla bla" thing, coincidentally, I had to deal with a student who sent me an e-mail with the subject line, "MY SWEET-ASS MEMO."  Yes, it was all in caps.  This was quite shocking as I sat at home checking my e-mail on the laptop with my nine-year-old looking over my shoulder.  I knew I could not let this slip past without pointing out that this lacked appropriate professionalism on the part of the student.

But then I wondered.  Isn't ASP, by far, one of the least formal places in the law school?  Shouldn't we try to create the kind of rapport that makes students feel comfortable coming to us for help?  How can I point out this student's error without sounding prudish?  I ended up scolding the student in a return e-mail (I deleted the offending language from the subject line).  I told him that while we are essentially a safe haven and more relaxed part of the law school, that his correspondence with our office still had to be professional.  I asked him to refrain from using such language in the future. 

I felt like I had put on my traditional lawyer garb, put my hair in a tight bun and perched my glasses on the tip of my nose for a moment, but I know I did the right thing because his response was, "I'm sorry" and not "bla bla bla."  Maybe I have prevented the big e-mail scandal of 2008, and maybe not.  It remains to be seen.

In a note of disclaimer, or perhaps even just an ethical honesty issue, I should point out that our seamstress is a graduate of the school I teach at-and no, I have never seen her before. (ezs)

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