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£1,600 fine for solicitor who forwarded ‘grossly offensive’ email to colleague

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Paul Kenneth Breen was department head of Liverpool outfit when he passed on email derogatory to women

A former department head at a Liverpool law firm has been fined £1,600 after forwarding a “highly derogatory and grossly offensive” email to a colleague.

Paul Kenneth Breen was head of catastrophic injury at Cassell Moore Law when in August 2015 he forwarded the email that was offensive towards “women and persons of a particular religious group”, according to a decision published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

The regulator said Breen was not the author of the email and did not expressly endorse the content, “although he forwarded it without condemnation”. The colleague did not forward the email to others at the firm, the ruling states.

Breen admitted that by forwarding the offensive email onto a colleague he “failed to carry out his role in the business in a way that encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity”.

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The solicitor said in mitigation that the views communicated in the email are not reflective of his true character and belief, he had expressed remorse and is deeply ashamed of what was said in the email, and that the behaviour will not be repeated.

In reaching its decision, the regulator noted that the email was exchanged internally and not released to others, nor released in the public domain, the content was not endorsed or commented upon and, there is no evidence of a repetition of the misconduct.

Breen, who is now listed as a partner at Manchester outfit JMW Solicitors, was fined £1,600 and agreed to pay £600 in costs.

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34 Comments

Anon

G’won show us the email, we all need a good laugh!

(38)(2)

Anonymous

What did the email say? Without that its impossible to know whether it was ‘grossly offensive’ or not.

(15)(6)

A

It only matters that the SRA thought police deem it offensive. We must love Big Brother.

(32)(3)

Anonymous

I don’t care if the SRA found offensive. Without knowing what it was, I didn’t, and nor can anyone else.

(10)(9)

Anonymous

We are not allowed to know or question. The SRA collective hive mind is all knowing.

(20)(1)

Anonymous

The SRA is becoming irrelevant.

Anonymous

Like this is what the regulator should care about. If the email was offensive about white Christian men, would they care?

(23)(15)

Greta Thunderbird

Am I reading this right? Somebody got reported to the SRA for forwarding an email, and the SRA charged the guy for “not condemning” it?

First, how did this ever reach the SRA – the article says the email wasn’t forwarded to anyone else at the firm, and I’m presuming the lawyer only sent it to someone they were pals with, so I don’t imagine the original recipient did so?

Second, who the bloody f*ck cares? If he had written the email then that’s fine, but forwarding it?? We do that sort of stuff at my firm all the time! When someone reads something ridiculous they just forward it to everyone else to have a laugh. This country’s legal system does not endorse the good samaritan rule – if you didn’t cause it, you don’t have to fix it. F*ck the SRA.

(37)(5)

Anonymous

Easy answer. Just forward funny emails with a comment saying “this is deplorable”.

(37)(1)

Deplorer of Deploraville

“This is deplorable 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣”

(1)(2)

Greta Thunderbird

We should organise a civil disobedience scheme where every lawyer sends the most offensive joke / message / meme they can find to the SRA on the same day (by email is fine, bonus points for posting it over) with the caption “Deplorable”.

(12)(3)

Anonymous

Expect all the white men to be investigated.

(12)(7)

Anon

Tom’s day:

8:00am Wake up, check if any firms have released their retention rate figures.

10:00am If not, browse SRA website for any disciplinary decisions for anything that may be triggering for maximum comment traffic.

17:00 Go home

22:30 Cry self to sleep.

(30)(4)

From the LC Archives

Tom stood nervously at the lectern, looking across a sea of expectant faces as his first slide loaded. Sure, most of the audience were students who thought wrongly that this was a useful law based presentation, and most of the rest were homeless people Alex had paid to fill out the audience, but Tom was sure that Matthew and Jamie would be there too. Also, most importantly for Alex, a troop of sponsor firms had coerced trainees into attending, and they filled the front row, trying to stay awake.

Tom scanned the audience carefully, looking for any sign of bright orange that would give away the location of his erstwhile future bosses. It was hopeless – the room was too dingy, and the lights shining directly into his eyes too bright to make out anyone in the audience. He had to continue and hope they were there to lap it up.

Tom cleared his throat. “Hello everyone. I know that you were expecting a presentation today about how to write up retention rate articles, but I have to let you know there’s been a slight change to the programme”. He glanced down at his laptop, hitting the button to transition to the next slide. There was a gasp from the audience, followed by hushed murmurs as the watching crowd digested what they saw.

Tom half turned, casting an arm towards the slide. “Today, folks, I’m going to talk about workplace drinking”. On the slide was a picture of a man in this late thirties, lying face down in a corridor so sparse it could have passed for a prison, empty can of special brew in one hand. He was wearing a light grey suit, so everyone could see the brown stain on his trousers and down his legs that signified that he had not made it to the toilet in time. A few people in the audience whispered the name of the figure to neighbours. It was Alex, outside of Legal Cheek HQ on one of his better days.

Tom hit a button and the slide changed. This had three bullet points, and another photo of Alex. This time, he was passed out on the sofa in the office, mouth agape, a spider crawling over his closed eye lid. A dried puddle of vomit was on the floor beside him. Tom read over the bullets. “So, folks, firstly, if you have inadequacies in your life, for your own sake, don’t drink. Even if your undercarriage is the size of a hamster’s, it’s no excuse”. There was a few titters of laughter from the audience. Tom paused to take a sip of water. “Secondly, don’t put all your money on a horse when drunk, and lose your home”. Tom waited whilst the audience peered back. A few had their phones out, and began taking pictures. “Thirdly, be grateful for whatever random law firm HR department takes pity on you, and decides to give you a few pence to tout their names around”. He hit the key, changing the slide again.

The next slide contained a video clip. It had apparently been filmed secretly, showing only half of Alex’s form as he was sat in his familiar position on the sofa in the Legal Cheek office. The rest of the picture was the unmistakeable dull woody brown of the underside of a desk. The audience were treated to a close up of an ancient piece of chewing gum to confirm it.

As Tom hit play, Alex’s voice rang out. “Yeah, mate, I know RPC aren’t that great. I just need you to write multiple articles about them. Go on their website and choose one of their practice areas and say they’re the best at it. Also, throw in a few “top” firm references here and there. Trust me, they love it. They’re so stupid. They lap it up”. He let out a peel of laughter. “I’ve been doing it for years. Such a scam. Sometimes I just change the names on the articles and churn out the same nonsense. They never know. They don’t read the tripe we write”.

The video stopped abruptly. Tom flicked to one last slide. On it was a picture of Alex again lying prostrate, hugging the dirty toilet at the Legal Cheek offices, wearing a long black ball gown, his hairy chest on full view. His face was covered in makeup smeared so badly he could have passed for a clown. A cigar hung from the corner of his mouth, a bottle of cheap prosecco lie empty at his feet. It was one of his classier poses. “Finally, please, don’t do over your employees, who work their backsides off for you, taking all sorts of abuse from Anonymous commenters whilst you are out getting drunk. It could backfire on you”.

As Tom paused, he felt the familiar sensation of a body hitting him in his midriff. He was well used to being rugby tackled, but by men far bigger, far more sober and far more skilled than Alex, so he kept his balance. Alex came off worse, and hit the deck, clutching his shoulder in pain.

“How could you!” Alex screamed as stood up, left hand still placed on his right shoulder.

“You deserve to be outed. You’ve ruined everything for me!” Tom shot back, unblinking as he returned Alex’s murderous gaze. “You did it for yourself. I don’t buy your story”.

Alex dusted himself off. He tried to take the dignified approach for once. “Well, Tom, I did. But that’s the last thing I ever do for you. Consider this your marching orders. Don’t bother coming back”.

As Alex nonchalantly turned to leave, he was blocked by a blonde haired woman in her early forties, who had appeared on the stage behind him. She introduced herself. “Alex, I’m Claire Reynolds from RPC’s HR team”. Alex looked her up and down. He had not met her, only having spoken on the phone. He gulped. He was worried what was to follow.

“I’m afraid we’ll be ending our sponsorship now. We don’t associate with low lives like you, OK?” Claire turned and beckoned the gaggle of fresh faced trainees to follow her as she left via a nearby exit.

As the room filled with the rumble of excited voices, Alex looked back at Tom, who was smiling. He raised a finger, pointing at Tom. “Don’t speak to me, don’t look at me. You’re dead to me. I wish I had never given you this top job!”

(26)(5)

Frustrated Writer

Thanks for the mention! That was part of a wider story but nice to look back on. One of my favourites is below, which I’ve reworked a little with the benefit of a fresh pair of eyes:

Luckily for Tom, Fiona McGowan, a sub-editor of the Stirlingshire Gazette happened to be in London that day. She was following up on a story she had written the year before, the subject of which had moved to the capital and so she was able to meet Tom for a face to face interview, before boarding the train for the long journey back north.

Tom had arrived early at their agreed meeting spot, a Starbucks near Kings Cross, and had spent more time than he cared to recall sitting nervously near the window staring at the passing crowds, waiting on her arrival whilst nursing a soya chai latte. This interview was more important than he could admit, even to himself.

Tom had looked up Fiona’s profile on Linkedin so knew that the tall, late twenties, athletically built woman approaching his table was the person he was expecting. As she scoured the coffee shop looking for him, her expression broke into an attractive smile as she saw Tom’s self-conscious wave. AS she approached, Fiona extended her hand to offer a firm handshake, moving her black leather handbag from her wrist to her left hand as she did so. Tom suddenly felt underdressed; Fiona was wearing a smart, grey suit with a crisp white blouse. Her grey steel glasses were even co-ordinated with her clothes and subtly tied in with her blonde hair, which flowed over her shoulders and down her back. She carried a smart designer trench coat casually over her left arm. Tom meanwhile looked like he had just stepped off a farm, wearing a thick green woolly jumper and navy blue chinos. A flat cap was perched on the spare seat next to him. He had considered a suit, but was concerned that would not fit in with what he presumed was a more relaxed world of local media with that look, so he had gone with an rural theme. More pressingly, Tom had to go back the office later, and he would have stood out like a sore thumb amongst the drug dealers, low lives and shady characters that lurked in the area Legal Cheek called home if he was too smartly dressed.

“Tom, I presume? Lovely to meet you.” Fiona said, with a hint of an Edinburgh accent, her gaze never wavering from Tom’s eyes, a warm, genuine smile still on her lips.

“That’s me” Tom responded, trying to sound relaxed, although deep down feeling a little intimidated not only by the situation, but by Fiona’s confident demeanour. He waved Fiona towards a chair at the table he was occupying. “Please, take a seat”.

Fiona carefully placed her coat and bag on the seat, removing a small black leather wallet from the pocket as she did so. She pointed at Tom’s half full cup. “First things first. Need a top up?”

Tom smiled appreciatively, but paused for a second. He couldn’t exactly ask for his usual soya chai latte, lest the attractive and urbane Fiona thought less of his manliness. He spat out the name of the most butch drink he could think of. “Urm, black coffee please, a dash of proper milk, full fat, none of that soya, plant based muck or whatever” Tom said, affecting a slightly deeper octave. Fiona nodded, unmoved by his puffed out chest. “Coming right up”.

Whilst Fiona was at the counter, Tom tried to calm himself down. This was going well already. He tried to stop his mind speeding ahead to working at the local paper, with the lovely Fiona. Once he had thought of a cover story for his parents, it would all fall into place. No more flying stationary, emotional counselling of his boss and retention rate articles. He would finally be a real journalist. He could hardly wait.

Fiona returned and took up her position again opposite Tom. After handing over his drink, Fiona pulled out a smart dark purple A5 sized hard cover pad and matching pen from her hand bag, releasing the front cover from an elastic restraint and flipping to an empty page. As she did so, Tom noted that Fiona had ordered what smelled and looked like a soya chai latte. He kicked himself mentally. He had missed the perfect chance to bond with Fiona. What were the odds she liked his favourite drink too? He should have been true to himself. He looked ruefully at the coffee next to him on the table. He hated coffee. He hoped she wouldn’t notice if he didn’t drink it.

Fiona meanwhile was ready for business. “Thank you Tom. It was, honestly, such a surprise to get an application from a news editor at a major legal publication, especially for a junior legal reporter role with us. Our editor, Andy, insisted that I meet you in person to make sure it was real!” She laughed slightly at her joke.

Tom beamed back, thrilled by the compliment. He was back on track. “No, no its totally real. I’m really excited to meet and discuss the role with you”.

“Grand”. Fiona responded. She adopted a familiar pose, poised with her pen, and asked her first question. As she did so, she looked at Tom intently, with an expression she had clearly honed many over the many occasions she had to convey her interest to interviewees. Tom really admired that. He could usually barely muster the energy to make more than an arbitrary grunt when interviewing law firm HR representatives for their latest paid for article. “So, Tom, why are you looking to leave Legal Week?”

Tom was slightly thrown but thought he had misheard in the din of coffee cups hitting saucers and the hiss of steam from the nearby espresso machine. She must have said Cheek, or perhaps it was a slip of the tongue. It would be far from the first time, and in fact Alex often capitalised on the mix up when getting credit from suppliers. As far as he knew, Legal Week were still getting calls from various office supply companies for products they had never ordered.

Tom pushed on without clarifying. “Well, it’s a family decision. I need to be back near my folks, to help them, and spend more time with them. They’re not getting any younger, and live up in Scotland, near your offices. I sometimes feel bad that they’re up there by themselves, no other family around. When I saw the vacancy for the legal reporter job with you guys I thought it would be ideal. In fact we used to gather around the breakfast table to read the Gazette every day when I was a kid”. He smiled, hoping that Fiona wouldn’t quiz him on the last part. In fact, when he was growing up, all he had read was the Beano, and later Match magazine, and then only to fit in with his mates. He hated football. He waited for the next question, hoping his expression would prompt Fiona to move on.

Fiona nodded slowly, as she made some shorthand notes in her pad. “I see. Such a heart-warming reason Tom. What a good guy you must be”. She looked up at Tom over the top of her frames, a serious but genuine look on her face. “So, I think Andy asked you bring some examples of some of your articles?”

Tom nodded eagerly and groped into a tired North Face back pack he had propped up against his chair, his hand emerging clutching the red faux leather folder of his trainee retention articles he had diligently printed and laminated over the years. He presented it to Fiona over the table.

“Very nice” Fiona remarked, turning the folder in her hands, clearly impressed by its presentation. Fortunately for Tom she did not see the gold embossed lettering stating “National Record of Achievement” that he had carefully scratched out.

Fiona sipped her chai latte as she flipped through the plastic pages of the folder, casually skimming each. Tom’s mind was racing. How could any reasonable journalist not be bowled over by his expertly crafted missive on MacFarlanes’ latest round of NQ recruitment, or his classic take on Allen & Overy’s slight pay rise? She would offer him the job on the spot. Actually, she would probably want to marry him too. He had already noted her left ring finger was empty.

As time wore on, however, Tom could see with surprise that Fiona’s expression changed from interest to one of confusion, which only intensified as she leafed through the pages.

Eventually, Fiona abruptly closed the folder and looked at Tom. “So, you work for which publication, Tom?” her eyes were narrow and tone confused. The smile had disappeared from her face.

Tom noted the change in tone of the reporter opposite him. She was no longer warm and friendly, but rather seemed to be exasperated. “Legal Cheek, Fiona. It was on my CV?” he responded, hesitantly.

“Legal…? What?” Fiona replied, looking perplexed, her head moving involuntarily towards Tom as if she couldn’t hear him. “I’m sorry, Andy handles CVs, he just asked me to see you today. Is that part of Legal Week at all?”.

Tom’s face turned crimson red, his pulse raced. “Erm, no, I mean our editor used to work for them, but we’re not officially linked. Actually, they keep writing to us asking is to change our name” he stuttered, forcing a laugh, but immediately regretting adding that last detail upon seeing Fiona’s stony expression.

“Could I trouble you to see the website?” Fiona asked, still perplexed, not responding to Tom’s comment. Tom pulled out his iPhone and quickly pulled up the Legal Cheek page, passing it over to Fiona, who returned the folder in the same transaction.

After a few minutes that seemed like hours to Tom, Fiona passed the iPhone back and smiled again. This time though it was obviously forced and delivered with no warmth. She firmly put the cap back on her pen, and closed her pad, replacing the elastic strap on the front. As she returned the pad to her bag, and gathered he belongings, Fiona uttered the words Tom was dreading. “I have to leave for my train. I’m sorry for wasting your time, Tom. It was lovely to meet you”.

Tom’s stomach did a summersault. “What, sorry, are we finished?”, he said, desperately. “You haven’t asked me anything”.

Fiona stood to leave. Now her tone was firmer. “Yes, Tom I know. Sorry again. There’s been a terrible mistake. It’s our fault.”

Tom stood too, moving slightly to block Fiona’s path. “But, but why? Didn’t you like my work?” His voice was wavering, panicked almost. His dream was evaporating. “I can change what I write, really. Just tell me what you need.” He was begging now, and his tone and raised voice attracted a few glances from fellow patrons of the coffee shop. Tom didn’t care.

Fiona grimaced. “Tom. I know we’re only a small, local newspaper, but we’re decent journalists. We write about real news. Things that have happened that people are interested in. Not articles about what random law firms pay their staff. Most of our articles are not about diversity issues, or copy and pastes of SRA decisions. We never take quotes from Twitter”. She carefully slid past Tom to the door, looking back briefly. “Look Tom, it just wouldn’t be a good fit, OK?” With that, she left.

Tom sank back into his seat, rubbing his palms on his face, feeling depressed. Although she had sipped her chai latte, it was mostly still there. At least he could take that to go, he supposed. In terms of his career though, it was not good news. It was back to square one.

(36)(1)

From the LC Archives

Sorry if you did not like that I did not mention the name expressly (thought all would know whose work it is). I am a big fan.

(2)(0)

Frustrated Writer

Nope, that wasn’t a sarcastic comment, very happy to have this brought up again! I’ve been too busy with real work to indulge in this lately.

Anonymous

Well, why don’t you fuck off and find somewhere else to dump your bilge? Only the selfish hijack threads like this. The internet is full of places for people to dump their third rate writing efforts.

Benny Goodman

I’m a big fan too! Take a break from work and give us some more excerpts…

(2)(0)

Tolstoy

Having an overactive imagination – 5 units

(3)(0)

t. Cali Law

Eggzackly

What passes for normal conversation here is wrongthink in your “nation”

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Its offensive for the SRA to name and fine him without saying what was in the email. It’s a form of malicious tittle-tattle.

(4)(0)

hero

step 1 – find solicitors working for the SRA
Step 2 – report them to the SDT for a clear lack of integrity.

(0)(0)

Saba

For all those who think it is ok to forward offensive emails it is not. A fine of this level for a head of dept in my view is a soft touch approach.

(0)(20)

Anonymous

Which bit of the email was offensive? To whom was it offensive?

(2)(1)

Anonymous

Its impossible to say whether its offensive without knowing the contents.

(1)(1)

Saba

Agree we don’t know what exactly the email stated. However, the fact that we are told
‘The solicitor said in mitigation that the views communicated in the email are not reflective of his true character and belief, he had expressed remorse and is deeply ashamed of what was said in the email, and that the behaviour will not be repeated.’ Gives you an indication that what this type of email is not acceptable and he should not have forwarded it on.

(11)(3)

Anonymous

No it doesn’t because we don’t know what the email said. We can’t possibly know whether or not it was acceptable without knowing the contents.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Anon at 21:00, I’m guessing you’re the kind of person who would want all the details from a Court of Protection case, so you can make your own mind up.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Ans I’m guessing you’re the type of person who leaps to the conclusion you want without knowing all the facts. Let’s hope you never get to judge anyone.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Everyone is the kind of person who needs details before making there own mind up.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Like Saba, I don’t find the email offensive as I don’t know the content.

(0)(0)

John Hamlet

Partner jumps ship, upsets old firm, old firm do an email sweep to find something contraversial, fail, find a joke and try their luck notifying the SRA. Boring.

(1)(0)

Anon

Now at JMW in Manchester. Says it all.

(1)(0)

Comments are closed.

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