It’s not every day that legal directories find themselves at the center of an international political brouhaha.
That’s what happened to Chambers & Partners last week when it was inadvertently dragged into the issue of Donald Trump’s alleged links to Russia.
Leave the politics aside (I made a rule in 2006 when I first started using social media never to touch politics online), it was remarkable to see how an organization can quite innocently get pulled into a media melee.
For those that don’t obsess over the nexus of legal directories, big law firms, and global politics, the event was triggered by the appearance at Trump’s press conference of Morgan Lewis tax partner Sheri Dillon.
Ms. Dillon and her firm had been retained by Trump to advise on the ringfencing of his business arrangements to avoid accusations of a conflict of interest with his presidency.
Law firms, which might be well known within the legal and executive communities, but virtually unknown outside, rarely secure that kind of stage or profile.
In an interview with American Lawyer, legal media consultant Nick Gaffney of Zumado Public Relations said it was the first time since Richard Nixon read a legal opinion from Gibson Dunn in 1952 that a law firm appeared as prominently before such a large audience.
But some reporters, in trying to show that Trump was compromised via his links to Russia, discovered that Morgan Lewis had been named Russia Law Firm of The Year by Chambers & Partners.
Keen to join the dots, this was a smoking gun to the press pack
lazy hacks under pressure to churn out online content three nanoseconds faster than their competitors
No mention that the Chambers award was handed out 10 months earlier, in April 2016 – before Trump secured the Republican nomination.
No matter that the Chambers award related to work handled by Morgan Lewis the previous year (2015), and likely had nothing to do with Trump.
No matter that Morgan Lewis has operated in Russia for many years.
Or that it’s quite common for international law firms to have a client in one jurisdiction and a separate office in another.
The circle was complete:
Evil politician + evil law firm + evil publication + evil country = ALL-ROUND EVIL.
Major media outlets piled in: Fortune, Huffington Post, CNN, and many others.
Even some of the legal trades that would have understood the nuances, and should have known better, leapt on the bandwagon.
Pleasingly, though, neither Morgan Lewis nor Chambers did what organizations under fire in similar situations often do – cower to the online mob by rowing back from what they previously said, pulling stuff from websites, and issuing weak statements.
Chambers continued to publicize its European awards and Morgan Lewis rightly kept up its announcement of its Russia awards success.
At the end of the day, despite the temporary aggravation, I imagine that neither Morgan Lewis nor Chambers & Partners will mind the fact that a lot more people now know who they are.
Trump picture courtesy of Gage Skidmore
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