How Not to Turn Down a Law Job Offer

social-networks1.gifDianna Abdala, a young law school graduate, was about to start working for William Korman, a criminal defense attorney. Shortly before she was to start, Korman told Abdala that he had also decided to hire another attorney, and as a result, had to adjust her salary lower. She sent him the following email:

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 [sic]. Thank you for the interviews.

Korman called and left a message to Abdala to discuss, but Abdala left a voicemail turning down the offer again. Korman wrote to Abdala:

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 p.m. 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 stationary 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.

Abdala responded with this email:

A real lawyer would have put the contract into writing and not exercised any such reliance

until he did so. Again, thank you.

Korman responded:

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 response, via email:

bla bla bla.

Korman forwarded the email exchange to some friends, and soon it had been forwarded throughout cyberspace. It was forwarded to me the other day.

Some thoughts about this saga:

1. Was it appropriate for Korman to forward the snarky email exchange to his friends, especially in this day and age where email can readily take on a life of its own and spread around the world? Many folks in the legal world are well-familiar with the famous email by the Skadden Arps summer associate who accidentally emailed everybody in the firm with an email that began: “I’m busy doing jack shit.”

2. A tip — if you’re going to create a snarky email exchange that might get circulated widely, please run spell check. At least spell “blah” correctly.

3. It seems to me as though Abdala had every right to turn down the job offer when the terms were changed significantly. She may even have been justified in being a bit upset over it, but that doesn’t excuse the unprofessional manner in which she chose to express herself. And Korman’s professionalism is not going to win any awards either.

4. The email is another amazing illustration of social network theory. The email exchange occurred on Feb. 6th, and within a few weeks made it to my email inbox. I don’t know Korman or Abdala, but there are definitely less than six degrees of separation. . . .

For their part, Korman and Abdala seem to be taking it all in stride. According to a Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly article:

“I’m hearing from people I haven’t heard from in years,” Korman laughs. . . .

“I’m not upset at all,” Abdala says. “I’m enjoying the notoriety.”

UPDATE: Apparently, Abdala is more upset over this than she lets on. According to the Boston Globe:

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 [the attorney’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.” . . . .

”All I did,” Korman 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.”

Hat tip: Marcia Hofmann

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18 Responses

  1. jd politely declines says:

    *ha*!! i saw this earlier, but still get a kick out of it now …

    having been through the business, political, and now legal community, i have found the most unprofessional behavior can often coincide with greater education or job prestige (or rather, a person’s self-assessed value of either). what passes as professional is often a “schmarmey” civility; shallow and unreliable if your own status is to change or alter to what is that particular community’s sense of status.

    if at the very least, we can appreciate that their last actions (as evidenced above) towards each other were probably the most honest.

  2. Bruce says:

    In contrast with the MLW article, my sympathies are actually with the interviewee. She had the terms changed on her after accepting, and then the interviewer chided her for reneging on his changed offer. What she wrote then was not terribly polite, but how many people are polite when they’re justifiably annoyed? I’m certainly not.

    All that said, the warning here for annoyed people is: keep in mind that whatever you write in email may be read by people unaware of the context (i.e., distant in the social network). Explain the obvious in your e-mails. Try to take the “I’m being superhumanly reasonable” tack whenever possible. Works for job offer rejections, dealing with partners/fellow associates, and discovery disputes.

  3. attorney guy says:

    Bruce,

    I agree with you. The interviewee’s first email had touches of polite cordiality as well — although there was one pointed dig. The interviewer was the first to “go nuclear.” That being said, at that point they both raced to the bottom.

  4. TRL says:

    my sympathies are actually with the interviewee.

    Really? She accepted the offer, learned later of the changed salary but still assented to the terms, only to change her mind at 9:30 the Friday evening prior to her Monday start date. Not only did she renege on her acceptance, she did so via an e-mail in which she addressed her would-be boss as “Attorney Korman.” Furthermore, Korman conceded: “I do not quarrel with your reasoning.” Again, why the sympathy?

    What she wrote then was not terribly polite, but how many people are polite when they’re justifiably annoyed?

    Whether or not she was justifiably annoyed at the development of the situation, she had more than ample time to convey her annoyances before choosing this unprofessional route.

    The interviewer was the first to “go nuclear.”

    I don’t think Korman said a single thing that was regrettable. Moreover, I bet he’s thankful that she revealed her true nature in this way rather than three months into her employment.

  5. Bruce says:

    TRL, I don’t agree with your reading of the facts, unless you have some better source than the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly article. From the story:

    Korman apparently thought Abdala had a bright future ahead of her so he offered her a job in their first meeting. They agreed upon a start date.

    But Korman then called Abdala to his office to tell her that he had decided to hire two lawyers, not one. As such, he had crunched some numbers and decided he had to reduce the amount of salary they had discussed. Still, he said, he was excited about her working for him. Korman set up computer resources for his new hire and made the other usual arrangements. But Abdala did indicate to Korman that she may have to give the job some more thought.

    Then Korman received an email from Abdala on the Friday evening before the Super Bowl. She had changed her mind.

    That’s when Korman sent his snarky e-mail calling her unprofessional and immature for rejecting his ex post facto reduced offer. My sympathies are still with her, although as I said, I don’t think her e-mails were the wisest move ever.

  6. The Career Consequences of a Notorious Reputation

    The Wall Street Journal today had an article about the now famous email exchange I blogged about a few days ago where Dianna Abdala, a recent law school graduate turned down a job offer from an attorney, William Korman. The…

  7. Wonkette says:

    Remainders: The Bad Ideas Edition

    It’s a bad idea to stand outside the office of the new House Majority Leader with your middle finger raised. [PoliBois] It’s a bad idea to turn down a job offer at a law firm in an insulting email…

  8. Wonkette says:

    Remainders: The Bad Ideas Edition

    It’s a bad idea to stand outside the office of the new House Majority Leader with your middle finger raised. [PoliBois] It’s a bad idea to turn down a job offer at a law firm by sending the hiring…

  9. tmcotter says:

    Korman is apparently a small prac crim lawyer. Some law firm. Sorry pal, the bait and switch you pull in court wasn’t swallowed by a prospective new lawyer. Kudos to Abdala. And yes, Korman you probably didn’t ace contracts. Change the offer and no go.

  10. Six degrees of separation, is discussed in another context on my blog. See, Six Degees of Freedom and 6 Degrees of Freedom — the update.

    The context in which I discuss Milgram’s theory is in discerning the meaning of “terrorists and their affiliates” in King W’s defense of the warrantless domestic surveillance program.

    I would be honored if you would leave a comment.

    ” and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

  11. JoshDestardi says:

    If it weren’t for email, we would never know of the children hiding in adult clothes.

    I’m afraid the majority of adults are still children, only taller.

    And these people run society.

  12. steve says:

    “stationary” in Korman’s e-mail is also a misspelling….

    but of course not the type caught by spellcheck.

  13. DeDe says:

    No matter what, you just don’t do business that way. You don’t wait until the last minute to inform your future employer that you have chnged your mind. Yes, they should have come to a better agreement about salary, but she should have had enough common decency to go temporarily and then worked out some sort of notice that she was leaving. He was right in warning other firms about this fickle wannabe.

  14. Bon says:

    I think the poster DeDe may be Korman in disguise. Note the spelling errors in this e-mail as well: “chnged”.

    In the overview it says “Shortly before she was to start, Korman told Abdala that he had also decided to hire another attorney” not the other way around. I concluded from this that she (Abdala) responded as soon as the terms had changed, and while her e-mail might not have been as polite as it should have been, she was well within the time limits required for such a response.

  15. meg says:

    DeDe may very well be Korman in disguise–or on his payroll…

    I don’t think that she was being fickle. he was the first to change the terms that were agreed upon, by hiring another lawyer and lowering her salary. If he did this after she already had a definite start date, then he was doing things at the “last minute.”

    Though her e-mail was somewhat rude, I think going temporarily would have been going way overboard on the politeness; far beyond “common” decency; she probably needed to start looking for another job ASAP.

    really, sending that e-mail out “smacked of immaturity” as far as I’m concerned. old people crack me up…

  16. William Gipson says:

    Every one has a standard but in human behavior every culture and all parts of society could care about jibber jibber and let the day go on with out any interuptions. For ever car there is a ass. For every job there is a ass. So whats the hang up she said he said IGF.

  17. William Gipson says:

    attorneys all walk with a loaf of bread up their ass. Shit it out and get on with reality. You went from professionalism into the dark smugness and rude behavior setting aside your education and cool collective reasoning by stepping out and letting everyone know that your beter than the rest, step aside because I am not getting humiliated and stepping down to a lower standard of life style because someone want`s to tell me how I must change my life style and live to a lower standard because they want to hire some one else and still keep me employed but at a cheaper wage, sorry but I set my standards and if I don`t who is? So take me or lose me, look at baseball contracts and you might understand how this hiring failed. You go girl. Besides men make more money than women ha ha. I don`t believe that either.

  18. Fodor John says:

    haha

    How could you refuse a law job with such email? Lame…