Ten years ago, it would have been no more than the stuff of law firm gossip.
But in the age of e-mail, blogs and text messaging, the story of a messy affair between a Miami corporate attorney and a married mother of four has spiraled into a much bigger headache for the century-old law firm White & Case.
First came mass e-mails from the woman's husband detailing liaisons between his wife and an associate in the firm's Miami office. Then the lurid e-mails landed on a popular legal blog where more than 100,000 people have viewed them.
The associate's name is not being published by the Daily Business Review. He did not respond to a phone message by deadline Monday or an e-mail sent Friday to his law firm address. A home phone number listed in the blog material for the associate is not accepting incoming calls, and a cell number reaches a recording saying it is not a working number.
For White & Case, the unwanted publicity raises a question all law firm managers and public relations professionals should consider: If an employee's dirty laundry gets a public airing, how can a law firm respond to minimize the damage?
Asked about the matter, White & Case spokesman William Sancho in Miami offered a brusque "no comment."
Hours later, an official firm statement came out: "This is a personal matter for the individual involved, and we cannot comment on it."
Todd Templin, executive vice president of Boardroom Communications in Plantation, Fla., said he would have counseled the firm to take a different approach.
"I would make it clear the actions of the attorney are an embarrassment to the firm, and I'd make the point that they are not indicative of the values and quality legal work that the firm is known for," he said.
It's something crisis management professionals often refer to as "getting in front of a story."
"If you don't tell your story, someone else will," explained Chris Marlin, who heads the Miami office of Sitrick & Co., a public relations firm specializing in crisis communications. "It's rare that ignoring a situation that is as open and notorious as this gets you any benefit."
But Marlin, an attorney who used to manage litigation for a Fortune 500 company, also had some comfort for New York-based White & Case.
"As a former in-house lawyer who regularly procured legal services, this would not have affected my decision to hire one firm over another," he said. "This sort of gossip has much more resonance in legal circles than it does in client circles."
The negative publicity on the blogosphere comes on the heels of a lengthy New York Times article describing deep layoffs at White & Case and portraying the venerable Wall Street firm as "an endangered species."
While that piece undoubtedly reflects the firm's more pressing concerns, it's not the one that has law firm tongues wagging all across town.
By now most South Florida lawyers have likely heard the smutty saga of "Miami White" and "SexyLexus," as the lovers were dubbed by the Web site Above the Law. The husband described his wife as a porn star, but she responded on the blog, "It's a camera-site. That is all it is. I am not in contact with anybody, there is no contact between me and anybody on that camera-site." She also said she has been separated for a year and is planning a divorce.
The e-mail also has been widely circulated in South Florida legal and business circles, through a viral series of forwards.
According to the e-mail, the purported husband of "SexyLexus" was in Canada for weeks launching a new business, far from his wife and their four children under 6.
When he returned, he found text messages suggesting his wife was carrying on multiple affairs, including one with the White & Case lawyer.
"When you decided to start sleeping with my wife while I was out of town over the last few weeks (May 27 - June 7, 2009) you threatened my way of life, and you really hurt a lot of people," one e-mail stated.
In a subsequent e-mail, the man said his wife appeared on a pornographic Web site and met fans for sex.
"Can someone at White & Case please help me and talk some sense to your colleague?" he wrote.
Two postings about the alleged affair on Above the Law generated about 130,000 page views and nearly 400 comments, according to blog editor Elie Mystal. They received more than 28,000 views on the New York gossip site Gawker.
Even the Wall Street Journal's generally highbrow Law Blog linked to the entries.
The Miami office of White & Case has grown to roughly 90 attorneys since opening in 1987 and is known for corporate, banking and project finance work in Latin America.
While clients probably won't bolt over the "Miami White" scandal, it hardly projects the image of stability and discretion most law firms work hard to cultivate, said Jonathan Groner, a law firm public relations consultant in Washington.
"Any law firm these days, just like any corporation, needs to protect its reputation," he said.
Still, one public relations specialist who did not want his name used said he "wouldn't argue very hard" for issuing a public statement.
"This has nothing to do with White & Case, and it's not necessarily something that deserves their comment," he said.
Scott Sobel, president of Media & Communications Strategies in Washington, said he advises clients to be prepared with a "holding statement" to show the firm is aware of a bad situation and in control.
"The worst thing that a firm could do is ignore this kind of issue or any crisis and hope it goes away," Sobel said.
"Clients come to you to handle their most delicate issues," he said. "If you're not handling your own delicate issues well, why would a client hire you?"
What follows is an e-mail being sent by the husband of a woman who allegedly had an affair with a White & Case associate in Miami to lawyers at that firm. The e-mail has been widely circulated in business and legal circles in South Florida and through several popular national blogs.
Families, wives, young children are valuable things. I work hard to take care of my family -- a wife, 4 small children under the age of 6. It is the most valuable thing in the world to me.
When you decided to start sleeping with my wife while I was out of town over the last few weeks (May 27-June 7, 2009), you threatened my way of life, and you really hurt a lot of people -- most notably the lives of my 4 very young children.
You are a securities lawyer at White & Case, so you know how to do due diligence. Perhaps you thought it was clever or fun, but attending a school recital with my wife who you've just met and started sleeping with over the last few weeks is extremely poor judgement. Sleeping with other mens wives, is alone, perhaps the poorest taste and the worst judgement all on its own. It implies a very low moral character. Perhaps you wish to plead ignorance, but a simple search on my name on the internet would indicate that I take a great deal of pride in my family. But after reviewing the text messages between you and my wife it would appear that you did the due diligence, that you knew she was spending the summer with me in Canada starting last week, and that we had small children and you were jeopardizing my family with your actions.
I have tried to contact you numerous times this week to address the situation and ask you to step aside ... to let me address the issues now faced in our house. I have contacted your mobile at [deleted] and your house at [deleted] but you are too much of a coward to answer. You need to be made aware of your actions and the consequences they bear.
What follows below are the text messages of your affair over the last few weeks as it unfolds. I would like to especially thank those at St. Stephens Episcopal School that watched this unfold at the school concert last week, and did nothing to alert me or defend my family. That is certainly a church and a school I want my children to grow up learning from. You have all seen me drop my kids off and pick them up there every single day for the last year. Did you think to mention anything when I showed up there last Monday June 8 at my kids ceremonies? You know how important they are to me.
And for all of you that think running around with other mens wives or husbands behind their spouses backs is acceptable behaviour -- recognize that there are consequences and that many of us that will fight for our families and ferociously defend our home and children.
Times have been tight since the recession hit. My wife has been home alone for 28 days in May of 2009 when this timeline starts. I am up in Canada starting a company, working very long hours and sending everything home to make ends meet. [My wife] is sending me nice messages every day, encouraging me to do well and to hurry home so we can all be together as a family. The business is going well, and I've almost caught up on the past bills in less than 30 days since starting the company. I have been working 7 days a week 15 hours days in Calgary. Now we are planning to rent a cottage near Toronto so we can spend the summer together as a family while I open up the Toronto market. I come home -- unannounced on Sunday June 7 and on Monday June 8 to make final plans and get passports for our 4 young children... I find her recently discarded blackbery phone in a drawer and plug the battery in. Here is what I found.
[The sender attached a lengthy exchange of text messages ostensibly between the wife and several men.]