On Monday, Donald Trump made his law firm, Jones Day, ground zero for the feud within the GOP over his likely nomination as the party’s presidential candidate.
It’s hard to know what the firm was thinking when it agreed to host the gathering between Trump and establishment Republican power-brokers. Trump’s campaign lawyer, Donald McGahn, is a partner at Jones Day, but until the meeting brought swarms of reporters and TV cameras to the firm’s Capitol Hill doorstep, few people—including many of Jones Day’s own lawyers—actually knew that. (As has been chronicled throughout the week on legal blog Above the Law, this has made for some pretty awkward water-cooler banter at the office.)
Now that word’s out, Jones Day finds itself at the center of a debate over whether one of the nation’s largest law firms has any business representing a candidate who encourages violence and spews hateful rhetoric about women, minorities, and religious groups. When I called around to legal-industry experts to get their take, most immediately emphasized that in this country, everyone has a fundamental right to an attorney. “Lawyers believe that all people are entitled to ethical and competent representation,” said Leslie Richards-Yellen, president-elect of the National Association of Women Lawyers. But she added that firms also have the right to decide what clients they want to represent: “Inherent in that decision is what representing certain clients would do to the morale of your employees, how representing a certain client may affect your other clients, and how it would affect firm culture and reputation.”
And that’s the key. Sure, Donald Trump, like everyone, has a right to a lawyer. But that doesn’t make it smart for a massive international firm to willingly sign on for the job. For one thing, Jones Day, like all large law firms these days, touts its focus on diversity: “As one of the world’s premier law firms, Jones Day has made diversity and inclusion part of the very fabric of the firm,” begins its seven-page brochure on the topic. The firm even has a designated “partner-in-charge of diversity, inclusion, and advancement”—who did not return my request for comment (nor did Don McGahn or the firm’s PR contacts). Representing a candidate who says things like this and this sends rather a mixed message, no?
But even if Jones Day doesn’t care about that, it surely cares about its bottom line. With practices in, typically, much more lucrative areas like intellectual property, antitrust, and financial regulation, revenue from a political-law client is likely a drop in the bucket. With corporations increasingly concerned about their outside counsel’s focus on promoting diversity and gender-equality, the optics of repping Trump just don’t seem worth the risk of alienating more important clients.
Jones Day also touts its stronghold in Latin America—not exactly a region with a fondness for Trump. On its website, the firm says it has “acted for clients in more than 1,500 matters in Latin America in the past 40 years.” (My call to the managing partner of Jones Day’s Miami office—billed as the firm’s “strategic gateway” to Latin America—wasn’t returned either.) Jones Day has offices in predominantly Muslim parts of the world, too, including outposts in Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
One final thing the firm prides itself on? Its dominance in recruiting Supreme Court clerks. In the arena of Big Law, firms fight hard to convince SCOTUS clerks to join their ranks—promising signing bonuses that reach upward of $300,000—and for the last several years, Jones Day has been the big winner, luring more high-court clerks than any other firm. But it’s hard to imagine a more politically savvy, intellectual crew of young lawyers than the crowd that gets hand-selected by Supreme Court justices. They’re not exactly Trump’s target constituency—something that could potentially come back to haunt Jones Day when recruiting season heats up.