Famed litigator David Boies and his firm, Boies Schiller & Flexner, are currently living a legal, ethical and PR nightmare. News broke this week that Boies and his firm, while representing disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, hired a security firm to uncover “dirt” about Weinstein’s accusers and The New York Times journalists in an attempt to stop the publication of negative stories about Weinstein in The Times. That alone is ethically questionable, but the fact that The New York Times was also a Boies Schiller client elevated this to an entirely new level of crisis, and ultimately resulted in The Times firing Boies Schiller.
One of the benefits of social media and electronic communications is that they give a public voice to those who might not otherwise have one. Those same tools, however, can cause headaches for businesses, which are often conflicted between embracing their employees’ right to express themselves and ensuring that those expressions do not harm the company. As Google’s recent experience shows, in today’s world there is little a company can do to prevent rogue employees from broadcasting their views. The important thing, instead, is how companies respond.
It’s difficult to pinpoint just one thing Anthony Scaramucci did to seal his fate in his short stint as the White House communications director. After all, there’s so much to choose from. So many titillating quotes, so many headlines and so many new phrases coined in his brief tenure (“White House Chaos” being one of the more mundane). “The Mooch” became the news story for 10 days — and that, above all else, is the primary reason for his downfall. His biggest mistake was in violating the No. 1 rule for all spokespeople: Don’t become the story.
Until recently, a law firm wouldn’t think twice about working for a sitting U.S. president, members of his cabinet, or an executive branch agency. Such an engagement would be a feather in the cap of any firm—one to be bragged about, subtly or otherwise. But times change, and among the many norms that the 45th president has threatened to turn on its head is the reputational effect of being associated with the White House.