(Courtesy of NBC)
All publicity is good publicity, right? For the right kind of celebrity, maybe. For a law firm? Not so much.
Still, some law firm marketing experts said that Morgan, Lewis & Bockius shouldn’t be overly concerned about its unusual turn in the public eye last week, when its ties to President Donald Trump and its past work in Russia were again in the news.
The firm became a punchline on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, when a letter from two Morgan Lewis lawyers to Trump made its way into the “Weekend Update” segment. The show came just months after “SNL” spoofed Morgan Lewis partner Sheri Dillon over her appearance at a press conference with Trump over his potential business conflicts.
Even Jones Day, with its copious ties to the White House, hasn’t gotten this kind of mainstream media attention.
Ross Fishman, CEO of Fishman Marketing, insisted the firm shouldn’t fear the attention.
“Even though it’s controversial, clients do like the fact that a large, sophisticated law firm is willing to stand there and take the heat for their client,” Fishman said. “People don’t usually remember the context, what was said, but they’ll remember Morgan Lewis and ‘Saturday Night Live.’”
The bit poked fun at the letter’s statement that Trump has no financial ties to Russia “with a few exceptions.” The letter from tax partners Dillon and William Nelson was dated March 8 but released last week.
“It’s like saying all the kids came back from the field trip, with a few exceptions,” “SNL” cast member Colin Jost said. He also poked fun at Nelson himself for sharing a name with country music star Willie Nelson, who had to pay the IRS millions in back taxes more than 20 years ago.
The jokes might affect Morgan Lewis’ pop-culture reputation, said Gina Rubel of Furia Rubel Communications. But even if the firm is probably not pleased with the negative attention, she said, it’s unlikely to change how most clients view the firm. (One client did make a point of firing Morgan Lewis in March over its representation of Trump.)
Rubel also downplayed the potential effect on lawyer recruitment for the firm.
“Speaking as a lawyer and as a publicist, I don’t think they have anything to be ashamed of because their job is to litigate successfully for their client,” Rubel said. “Anybody who has a decision-making power to hire Morgan Lewis understands what this is about.”
Nelson should have a screen shot of the video on his LinkedIn page, Fishman said.
Both Rubel and Fishman said “SNL” sketches have a short-lived effect. What’s more important are the issues behind the joked-about letter—the extent of ties between the administration and Russia—which have yet to be fully resolved.
Another law firm marketer, who declined to be named due to client conflicts, said there are branding risks involved in the matter itself. If investigations into Trump’s conduct later appear to contradict the tax lawyers’ letter, that could cause problems.
“You can tarnish your brand, even if what you did was technically correct,” the marketer said.
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