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Don’t Email About “Cooking the Books”

Today’s New York Times has a front-page story “4 Accused in Law Firm Fraud Ignored a Maxim: Don’t Email” that reminds us of a rule we know well: Don’t put anything in writing that you would not want to see on the front page of the NYT, on everyone’s screen, or in anyone’s Twitter feed.

According to the NYT story, individuals at the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf used phrases such as “fake income,” “accounting tricks, “clueless auditor,” and even “cooking the books” in their emails, which are part of the New York prosecutors’ 106-count indictment against the four men.

I will not pass judgment on the case or the guilt or innocence of the men. But I will criticize their email intelligence: They should have known better!

Do you see words and information that shouldn’t be in the emails that leave your organization? I hope you can speak up against them and make a difference.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

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