'Murder' email lands lawyers in trouble

A hoax email, concocted by a trainee solicitor, results in disciplinary action after being leaked into the public domain

A bogus email from a London law firm announcing the murder of a company secretary has resulted in four employees facing disciplinary action.

The internal email asked staff to note that secretary Natalie Francisco would not be at work on 16 March because she had been murdered. Employees at the international law firm Herbert Smith were said to be shocked by a complete lack of remorse in the email that was sent out globally to thousands of email addresses.

Within days, the email had been forwarded to friends and colleagues, sparking off a global embarrassment mirroring the Norton Rose incident last December, when a sexually explicit email originated by solicitor Bradley Chait was forwarded to ten million people around the world.

"The issue is being dealt with internally as it's a firm-wide issue," said a spokesman at Herbert Smith. "We are using it as an opportunity to reinforce our corporate email policy, encouraging staff to consider their responsible use of email," he added.

The law firm has confirmed that the hoax was concocted by a trainee solicitor in its Hong Kong office. A group of three other Herbert Smith trainees based in London could also face disciplinary action for defaming the firm's name.

Natalie Francisco has been confirmed as live and well, but not before Herbert Smith gained an unfounded reputation as a heartless employer. "Do you think one of the partners made a lame speech as her body made its final jerky exit towards the afterlife?" said one response to the email that was forwarded to ZDNet News by Legal Week. "Good to know how valuable HK considers its support staff to be," commented another shocked employee.

The number of people losing their jobs in the UK for circulating emails regarded as unsuitable for their company's image or reputation is high. In addition to the infamous Claire Swires email circulated by Bradley Chait, around 40 employees were suspended by insurance firm Royal Sun Alliance in December after a smutty Bart Simpson image was accidentally emailed to a company director.

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