More E-Mail Advice: Don’t Reply to All, Know When to Quit, Use Capital Letters

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I have in the past violated the "no reply to all" rule, but usually (not always) I judged correctly that what I was sending was funny or useful enough that I would be forgiven.  If not, I at least knew when to quit, and I always, always used capital letters.

An associate at Quinn Emanuel recently violated all these rules, and is now a former Quinn Emanuel associate.  Maybe not for that reason, but this sure didn't help.

Quinn represented the Washington Redskins in a long-running legal dispute with Native American activists over the team's name.  (The activists were challenging the team's right to trademark the name.)  After the firm won a victory in the case on appeal, a partner ("Bob") circulated an email notifying everyone of the win and thanking the team members for their help.

A first-year associate responded, copying the entire firm, with this:

From: [redacted]
Sent: Friday, May 15, 2009 3:16 PM
To: [redacted]; Attorneys
Subject: RE: Washington Redskins Victory


this email is meant neither to rouse some rabble or down some debbies or outcrunch some crunchies. quite the opposite – i get excited whenever i get victory emails (and even replies to victory emails). this is/was an interesting case that i know (well, i guess i don't know, exactly, but i think) turned on issues not related to whether or not native americans were being slighted by the redskins mascot. but i feel compelled to the point i'm willing to write (and i'm from iowa so imposition is a slow, agonizing death) with a request that we might take a moment (water fountain break, going to nelly and claire's shop downstairs, getting printouts) to think about how many people (native americans, americans, non-native americans, non-american natives) are bummed today because a mascot they find offensive remains on the second column of the sports page and on a kid's hat and on espn's score ticker (and, to a lesser extent, on cnn headline sport's score ticker).

obviously in writing this email, my end position on this matter is pretty clear, but i still, at times, try to make sense of whether or not the mascot is /that/ offensive or even that important an issue to fight. in saying that, i'm just saying i'm willing to chat about it to make sense of it, and i hope others are as well.

and i'll leave on something cheesy: it's incredibly humbling and gratifying to work at quinn, but i really hope america's firm will be native america's firm as well. (that's soooooooooooo dorky, but eh.)

earnest congratulations on the win, for reals, and i hope everyone has a fun weekend!

   — [redacted]

Maybe I should know what "down some debbies" and "outcrunch some crunchies" means, but I do not.  In context, I can guess – but regardless, using terms like these (or "for reals") isn't something that really screams "professional."  Also, too many parentheticals make documents hard to read, and unless you are e.e. cummings you need to use capital letters.  Anyway, one email is normally something that can be apologized for and/or taken back.  But our hero was persistent, even after getting this response:

From: [partner name redacted]
Sent: Friday, May 15, 2009 12:46 PM
To: [redacted]
Cc: Bob [redacted]
Subject: RE: Washington Redskins Victory

[Redacted]: We have not met. I am in the NY office. I sit down the hall from Bob. Calling Bob out in front of the entire firm is a poor use of the "reply to all" function. Note the lack of any parentheses in this email. It makes it much easier to read.

Bob and I represent clients, not causes. We like Native Americans. If Native Americans had hired Bob, the Redskins would have lost the case. But they didn't. They hired someone else. So it was incumbent on Bob to kick their ass in court. It is really that simple.

But I digress. The real purpose of this email was to suggest that you made a mistake by sending your email to every lawyer in the firm, thus ensuring that every time someone says your name, they will think "isn't he the first year that [redacted] all over [Bob's] victory email?"

You see, this is the point where one STOPS emailing and STARTS personally trudging to the partners' offices, in this case even if they are on the other side of the continent, in order to apologize, admit a lack of judgment and, possibly, begin your career again.  But no:

From: [redacted]
Sent: Friday, May 15, 2009 3:22 PM
To: [redacted]
Cc: [Bob]
Subject: RE: Washington Redskins Victory


indeed, we haven't met. but we're (kind of) meeting now. hi.

i think if you reread my email, then you will find i in no way called out bob's position on native americans or, for that matter, called into question either his ability as a lawyer (i think i adequately praised the win) or his constitution as a person (no comments on that issue, either). to say i called bob out is to focus my general comment on a ex post facto whipping boy created in your email and not in mine. but, i admit, i might be wrong on that point.

I won't reprint the entire exchange, which you can find here, but suffice to say that this sort of thing continued for several rounds, with the associate continuing to show poor judgment throughout, and stubbornly refusing to use any capital letters at all.

In a follow-up posted yesterday, Above the Law reports that, unsurprisingly, the associate has been let go.  Surprisingly, the firing was allegedly not because of his astonishing lack of judgment, but rather because the associate had failed the California bar exam for the second time.  In California, given the very low pass rate, one failure to pass is typically not a job-loser, but two often is.  It is not clear, however, whether any of these emails were sent after the associate had learned he failed for the second time, at which point he might have suspected he would be departing anyway.  The first one, at least, probably was not.

None of which is to put down his opinion about the name "Redskins" being offensive.  It sure seems that way to me, and I'm a whiteskin.  Having that opinion I think is perfectly valid — sending it repeatedly via "reply to all" is another.

Link: Above the Law (May 19)