Rudolph Rudy Giuliani, formerly of Bracewell & Giuliani. (teapartycheer.com)
A week after Rudolph Giuliani left the firm formerly known as Bracewell & Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and some of his former partners are exchanging barbs over his tenure at the firm and his departure.
On Jan. 19, Greenberg Traurig announced that Giuliani was joining its ranks, along with white-collar specialist Marc Mukasey. The 71-year-old Giuliani will chair the firm’s cybersecurity and crisis management practice and serve as a senior adviser to Greenberg Traurig executive chairman Richard Rosenbaum. Mukasey, 48, will co-chair the firm’s white-collar defense practice. In an interview last week, the two men said that they were attracted to Greenberg Traurig’s bigger global platform.
At the time, all sides described the move as amicable, and everyone wished each other well.
But before Giuliani left Bracewell, as the firm is now known, his more controversial political comments were causing tension at the firm, especially with the presidential election approaching, according to two partners. Last February, for example, he told a group of executives that President Barack Obama doesn’t love America, a comment that received widespread publicity. Management repeatedly cautioned him to be more careful about what he said publicly, they said. Giuliani confirmed that some partners confronted him about his remarks, but he denied that anyone in management talked to him about it.
“I was never told not to say something of a political nature,” Giuliani said. “The idea that comments I made caused discussion in the firm had been going on for 11 years,” ever since he joined the firm, he added.
Bracewell managing partner Mark Evans said in a written message that conversations between any partner and management are confidential. “When the mayor offered political commentary, it was always understood that he was speaking on his own behalf and not for the firm,” he wrote in an email. “As with any large firm, Bracewell partners and clients have a diversity of opinions on political matters, and are sophisticated enough to distinguish between personal and professional expressions.” He added: “I can assure you that the mayor was and is our friend. His departure is related to his interest in addressing cybersecurity matters on a different platform and to his desire to spend more time in Florida, where his new firm is based.”
While Giuliani isn’t the only political figure to join a law firm—former U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gringrich joined Dentons last May—he’s the only one in recent years to become the face of a large firm. When he joined Bracewell in 2005 the firm changed its name from Bracewell & Patterson. Giuliani gave the Houston-based Bracewell an entrée into New York, where it didn’t previously have an office, and helped grow that office to the 80 lawyers it has today.
A Flash Point
From the start, the firm knew that the former mayor liked to speak his mind, usually in blunt terms. But his assertion last February that he didn’t believe that Obama loves America was a flash point that drew complaints from Bracewell clients and partners, three partners said. Giuliani made the comments on Feb. 18, 2015, at a private meeting of roughly 60 business and media executives at the 21 Club in Manhattan, during an event for then-Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker.
“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” Giuliani said, according to an account by Politico. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”
“It definitely created tension and concern,” said a Bracewell partner about this comment and others, including anti-Obama remarks Giuliani made at internal firm meetings. “We had to talk to Rudy a number of times about this. … We did get calls from clients expressing concern.” Another partner said management was increasingly worried as the election approached. “His comments just got worse over the last year and a half—more vitriol, and drawing objections in the press,” he said.
In an interview Monday, Giuliani explained that he later clarified that he spoke too broadly about the president. “It was shorthand for saying he had a different view of America: a weaker America, a more defensive America.” Some of his partners told him they weren’t happy with his remarks. “Some people [in the firm] told me they thought I was wrong for saying it and that it was insensitive,” he said. But he added that no one in management talked to him about toning down his public remarks. As for clients, he said, “I got feedback both ways,” with one client inviting him to speak on the topic.
On March 2 of last year, less than two weeks after Giuliani’s attack on the president at the 21 Club, the firm registered a new domain name, Bracewellaw.com. Managing partner Evans downplayed any connection. “The firm owns literally hundreds of names and marks,” he wrote in an email. “We register them as appropriate when we think of them and when they become available. There is no relationship between any particular event and the registration of any domain name,” Evans said.
Last week, Evans told sibling publication Texas Lawyer that the firm hired branding consultants about four months ago, and on their recommendation had planned to change the name to Bracewell regardless of Giuliani’s status. In his interview Monday, Giuliani expressed anger over that statement.
“It’s completely false, the statement that they were going to change the name of the firm,” he said. “If they were, they were being deceptive because they never told me.”
Giuliani wanted to make it clear that he left Bracewell, and wasn’t eased out. “Look, I walked out of the firm,” he said. “The first words out of Mark Evans’ mouth, were, ‘I’m very, very surprised.” He said Evans asked for more time before the announcement was made. “He was scrambling for time,” said Giuliani. “They had no idea I was leaving.”
One partner who is critical of Giuliani’s political comments still thinks he was a great asset for the firm. “It’s hard to distinguish yourself [in New York] but he did that immediately for us,” he said. “He made a lot of introductions.”
A former partner said that Giuliani’s outspoken nature had its benefits. “There were some negative comments from clients, but they were balanced by clients who were really attracted to [what he said],” he said. “I attended an event in Europe, and the room was packed, and [the crowd] wanted to hear his political comments,” he said. “It was a trade-off.”
At Greenberg Traurig, Giuliani said that his freedom to speak his mind will depend on the setting. “When I’m speaking as a lawyer for Greenberg Traurig, I have to be consistent with the firm’s positions,” he said. “When I’m speaking publicly, I’m pretty much free. There’s no censorship.”