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February 06, 2008

Another email horror story

Two years ago, I wrote about a hostile email exchange that became public between a lawyer and a job applicant: "Latest law jerks." I'm not entirely sure how the exchange became public, but it presumably was forwarded by one of the parties to a third party.

Which is how most of these things become public.

As Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company, and its lawyers have found out to their dismay.

Picture this: You're a company that's in confidential settlement talks with the government. Confidential, by the way, means non-public. And that's with good reason:

With the negotiations over alleged marketing improprieties reaching a mind-boggling sum of $1 billion, Eli Lilly had every reason to want to keep the talks under wraps. It was paying the two fancy law firms a small fortune to negotiate deftly and quietly.
I'm sure you've figured out by now that this story doesn't have a happy ending for Eli Lilly. Last week, the New York Times published an article disclosing the confidential settlement talks. Who had leaked the information?

Here's a hint: The Times reporter is named Alex Berenson, and one of the company's outside lawyers is named Bradford Berenson.
So when the Times' Berenson began calling around for comment, and seemed to possess remarkably detailed inside information about the negotiations, Lilly executives were certain the source of the leak was the government.

As it turned out, one of Eli Lilly's lawyers at Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia wanted to email Sidley Austin's [Bradford] Berenson, about the negotiations. But apparently, the name that popped up from her email correspondents was the wrong Berenson.

Alex Berenson logged on to find an internal "very comprehensive document" about the negotiations, the consultant said, and on January 30, Berenson's article, "Lilly in Settlement Talks With U.S." appeared on the Times' website. A similar article followed the next day on the front page of the New York Times.
If I were the lawyer in question, I'm sure I'd be on the phone with headhunters STAT. An innocent mistake, no doubt, but even if the lawyer is kept on, she's going to suffer from Ralph Branca Syndrome.