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Ketchup spat embarrasses law firm

An e-mail row between an executive and a secretary at a London law firm over a £4 dry cleaning bill has made its way around rival firms.

Baker & McKenzie's Richard Phillips e-mailed Jenny Amner implying she had spilt tomato ketchup on his trousers and asking her to foot the bill.

She apologised for her late reply a week later, blaming the "more pressing issue" of her mother's death.

The firm said the "private matter" had "clearly got out of hand".

“I apologise again for accidentally getting a few splashes of ketchup on your trousers “

- Jenny Amner's email

After Mr Phillips' e-mail of 25 May asking for the cash, Ms Amner replied on 3 June: "With reference to the e-mail below, 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.

"I apologise again 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."

Offer declined

She had told partners, lawyers and trainees about his e-mail and they had offered to "do a collection" to raise the £4, she added in her e-mail.

"I, however, declined their kind offer but should you feel the urgent need for £4 it will be on my desk this afternoon," she wrote.

The exchange has been forwarded across the legal community with some people adding comments questioning Mr Phillips' generosity.

In a statement, Baker & McKenzie confirmed it was aware of the exchange.

"We are investigating so as to resolve it as amicably as we can," it said.

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. - Dr Simon Roberts

"We respect the privacy of our staff and make it a policy not to comment on individuals to the media."

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.

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