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In terms of public relations, having an attorney on your law firm’s employee roster who is accused of paying for sex with young girls may be about as bad as it gets. Cravath, Swaine & Moore most likely thinks so, as it plays defense against the media in the frenzy surrounding the arrest of James Colliton. The New York firm’s former tax associate was captured last week in a New York hotel after fleeing from authorities. He was charged with having sex with two teenage girls and paying their mother in exchange. Providing a contrast between the white-shoe crowd and, if true, some very dark behavior, the situation serves as an example of what to do-and perhaps what not to do-in controlling the damage created by association. Cravath has declined to comment on the matter, saying through a spokesman only that Colliton is no longer with the firm. No comment? Bad move. But the “no comment” approach is a bad move for businesses in trouble, said Lanny Davis, head of the legal crisis communications practice in the Washington office of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. Davis, former attorney for President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, has handled public relations headaches for corporations and for law firms. Working with law firms is “one hundred times worse” than with other businesses, he said, because attorneys mistakenly believe that they know how to deal with the media. “It’s arrogance,” he said. The usual tight-lipped response, Davis explained, ends up making those in the spotlight look as if they have something to hide. “Even under criminal investigation, you never, never, never say ‘no comment,’ ” he said. Also not commenting is Colliton’s attorney, Alan Abramson of Schuman, Abramson, Morak & Wolk in New York. Colliton, 42, was indicted on charges of second-degree rape and patronizing a prostitute. A 1989 graduate of New York University School of Law and a father of five, he initially was arrested in Canada but mistakenly was released. Authorities captured Colliton at a New York hotel, where he was staying under an assumed name. Prosecutors allege that he began having sex with the girls when they were 13 and 15. He worked on several high-profile transactions for Cravath, including the $9.7 billion restructuring of Air Canada last year and the sale of Time Warner Inc.’s music business in 2003. Colliton was an associate at Cravath for at least five years. Before joining Cravath, he worked at Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett of New York. Cravath’s current public relations challenges, though bad, could be worse for the firm, said Carey Bertolet, a managing director at BCG Attorney Search in New York. Scandals surrounding financial wrongdoing or systemic malfeasance within law firms are far more harmful to their reputations than the alleged criminal behavior of lone attorneys, if the behavior is unrelated to the practice itself, she said. “The more Wall Street Journal kinds of problems are more disturbing than something you’d find in the New York Post,” Bertolet said, referring to a local tabloid known for its crime stories. A summer associate’s view Heather Cannady, a second-year Harvard Law School student who will participate in Cravath’s upcoming summer associate program, said that her opinion of the firm has not changed. “It definitely has an impact on the firm’s reputation externally, but it doesn’t color my desire to work there,” she said. Orrick’s Davis advises law firms seeking to control public relations damage to coordinate a factual message that states what the law firm is doing about the problem. “They should try to address the elephant in the living room,” he said.

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