An anonymous correspondent has pointed me to this story, which is getting a lot of traction since it was first published by the Times of London.
It has been said that you should never put anything in an e-mail message that you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the New York Times. The same can be said for the London Times, as an English lawyer has learned. E-mail has a very long memory and a click of the mouse can forward a message around the world. Unfortunately, not only do messages often reflect poorly on the author, but the name of their organization can get dragged through the mud as well.
"How a few ketchup splashes, a £4 bill and an e-mail have become the talk of the City
A CITY lawyer who made an office secretary pay £4 towards a dry-cleaning bill after she accidentally spilt ketchup on his trousers was paying dearly for his actions last night.
“Dear Jenny,” he wrote. “I went to the dry-cleaners at lunch and they said it would cost £4 to remove the ketchup stains.” He wrote that it would be “much appreciated” if he could have the money back.
Ms Amner replied: “I must apologise for not getting back to you straight away but due to my mother’s sudden illness, death and funeral I have had more pressing issues than your £4.” She went on: “I apologise for accidentally getting a few splashes of ketchup on your trousers. Obviously your financial need as a senior associate is greater than mine as a mere secretary.”
Ms Amner’s colleagues offered to hold a collection to raise the £4 but she paid the sum herself — while copying her colleagues in on the e-mail exchange. It has since been widely circulated on the internet. A tabloid newspaper was offering to pay £2,000 last night for a photograph of Mr Phillips. Among many unanswered questions is how the ketchup came to arrive on Mr Phillips’s trousers...."
In the BBC's coverage, they hit the nail on the head about the dangers of e-mail:
BBC NEWS | Technology | Ketchup spat embarrasses law firm:
"... Commercial anthropologist Dr Simon Roberts, research director of Ideas Bazaar consultancy, said he thought Mr Phillips had chosen to e-mail the request for the money, partly because email had become the 'de facto messaging medium' in business.
'Also, we find it easy to use e-mail to say things we would feel a bit uncomfortable saying in person because we feel more distant from the interaction.'
However, Mr Phillips may be regretting starting the exchange by e-mail because 'e-mails have a long memory', he added."
For a lawyer, one might never live this down. Many lawyers use Google to find out about the lawyers on the other side of litigation or deals. After an incident like this, most of the hits on a search query will be related to the incident, not his or her practice. Be careful out there.
For more coverage, check out:
- E-mails fly in ketchup row: Glasgow Evening Times, UK
- Ketchup mishap stains his reputation...: Reuters
- Ketchup spat embarrasses law firm: BBC News, UK
- E-mail tells of sticky incident at law firm: P2PReactor.com, Poland
- Ketchup stain sparks e-mail flurry: CNN
Also, this story reminds me of some other faux pas, this time with voice mail instead of e-mail: PIPEDA and Canadian Privacy Law: F-bomb-dropping attorney gets worldwide notoriety