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Perkins Coie Finds Marketing Opportunity in Conrad Black Trial CommentaryPerkins Coie has been an unlikely beneficiary of the 15-week-long trial of media mogul Conrad Black in Chicago, and the firm isn't even representing anyone in the case. Chicago Perkins Coie partner Hugh Totten and a firm public relations specialist hatched a plan to see what kind of publicity they could drum up by making Totten available to comment on the case for the 400 registered U.S. and international press personnel covering it. To say the plan was successful is an understatement.
The National Law Journal2007-06-29 12:00:00 AM
Perkins Coie has been an unlikely beneficiary of the 15-week-long trial of media mogul Conrad Black in Chicago, and the firm isn't even representing anyone in the case. The firm's lack of clients actually aided the windfall.
Chicago Perkins Coie partner Hugh Totten and one of the firm's public relations specialists, Lori Anger, hatched a plan at the beginning of the criminal fraud trial to see what kind of publicity they could drum up by making Totten available to comment on the case for the 400 registered U.S. and international press personnel covering it. Many of the law firms in town weren't able to comment publicly because they were representing one of the defendants or witnesses in the case.
So, Totten, a litigator specializing in complex civil cases and co-chair of the group's construction and design team, started sitting in on the trial at the federal courthouse, conveniently located across the street from the firm's Chicago office. It's the same kind of trial he typically works, just with a different burden of proof, he said. Mixing with reporters was natural for him given his journalism studies at Purdue University and his former editor position at the college's newspaper.
To say the plan was successful is an understatement. Totten, a former Kirkland & Ellis attorney who has little experience in criminal defense, got comments into newspapers and wire services all over the world, including the Chicago Tribune, the Financial Times of London, the Globe and Mail in Toronto and Bloomberg News.
"It mushroomed beyond anything I anticipated," Totten said in an interview, explaining the firm's strategy.
Totten, 48, said he spent "easily 100 hours" at the trial, catching most of the witnesses on the stand, and in media interviews with reporters. On one day, he was interviewed by all three local TV news stations for all three news show slots. "It was an amazing trifecta," he said.
The strategy was to draw attention to the firm's name in the interest of luring new lawyers to its three-year-old Chicago office in a very competitive market for talent, Totten said. The office currently has 70 lawyers, up from 20 in 2004, and Totten said the firm expects there may be 200 attorneys in the office one day.
"We'll grow as big and as fast as we think we can handle it responsibly," Totten said.
Totten called the trial "fascinating," noting that there were "historic moments" and "Bataan Death March" days as well. The testimony of former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson, also a former Northern Illinois U.S. Attorney, was a highlight, and closing arguments of Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Ruder was a "career-making" performance, Totten said. Schiff Hardin defense attorney Ronald Safer, representing former Hollinger corporate counsel Mark Kipnis, had an impressive rapport with the jury, he added.
The jury is now deliberating on the verdict for Black, Kipnis and two other co-defendants, all of whom are former Hollinger International Inc. executives alleged by U.S. prosecutors to have cheated the former media company's shareholders out of $84 million mainly through fraudulent agreements linked to company sales of assets.