Is There a Lawyer in the House?


Writing in the New York Times, someone named Paul Campos, who teaches law at the University of Colorado, asks, Why Can’t Trump Find Legal Help? Professor Campos reports,

As Robert Mueller’s Russia probe moves forward, the Trump administration has approached a slew of prominent law firms and attorneys, only to be told that while, in the words of Dan Webb and Tom Buchanan of Winston & Strawn, “the opportunity to represent the president [is] the highest honor” that can come a lawyer’s way, they must respectfully decline that honor. This left the president relying on a legal team who, with the exception of former Hogan Lovells lawyer Ty Cobb, features no criminal defense lawyers, let alone attorneys with experience in the sort of investigation Mr. Mueller is conducting.

The reasons top firms and lawyers are giving for refusing to work for Trump include conflicts of interests with current clients, the possibility of alienating sources of future business, the president’s reluctance to follow legal advice, his tendency to ask lawyers to engage in what Ted Boutrous of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher referred to delicately as “questionable activities,” and his history of not paying his bills.

The good professor doesn’t tell us the source of his information about rebuffs by “a slew of prominent law firms and attorneys,” but the statement rings true, and I am pretty sure it is true.

Prof. Campos approached the issue by examining campaign contribution patterns among the top ten law firms in 2012 and 2016 and found a surprising shift. For example,

Data from Kirkland & Ellis, a Top 10 firm with a reputation for leaning Republican, highlight how extreme that shift was. In 2012, Kirkland & Ellis’s lawyers made 20.6 percent more contributions to Mr. Romney’s campaign than they made to Mr. Obama’s. In 2016, the same firm’s lawyers were 34 times more likely to contribute to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign than to Mr. Trump’s.

The notable lack of support for Mr. Trump inside top law firms reflects a broader pattern among elite institutions. For example, at the investment bank Goldman Sachs, contributions to the Trump campaign were 99 percent lower than those to Mr. Romney’s campaign four years earlier.

From these data, the professor deduced that “elite” lawyers don’t like Trump, and that is why they are all refusing to provide legal counsel to him.

I find the campaign contribution data very interesting, but the professor’s interpretation is unpersuasive. Speaking as a former partner of law firms ranked, respectively, about number 30 and about number 20 in the nation, here is what I think. I think that K&E turned off the money spigot for Trump not because of generalized personal animus, but rather due to the specific concern: it’s unwise to put the country’s affairs in the hands of a delusional narcissist.

Lawyers at large law firms have no objection at all to working for very unpleasant people. They do it every day of the year. Nor do firms with white collar criminal defense practices object to working for white collar criminals. Who the hell do you think their clients are? If criminal defense lawyers refused to defend criminals, they would soon be out of business.

It’s not personal animus. It’s not about welching on legal bills—because he can deal with that little matter by getting the rubles up front. It’s partly about a prospective client who probably not listen to your counsel and who will probably defame you with a tweet after he fires you.

But most of all, it’s about fear that working for Trump will harm your reputation among law graduates so badly that you will no longer get the pick of the litter. And if you don’t get the pick of the law school graduate litter, then you can bend over and kiss your “top 10” status goodbye.

An Aardvark Addendum

And a postscript about Kirkland & Ellis. I never visited their ladies room—and God only knows what was in there. But in the men’s room they provided two brands of mouthwash and two brands of hair spray, along with a machine to spiff up the polish on your shoes.

So remember, my friends, if you want an lawyer whose shoes are shined to a high polish, whose breath smells of roses, and whose every hair is glued in place, then K&E is the firm for you. And their failure to give any money to the Trumpster proves their good judgment. Their place at the top of the profession is secure.