Morgan Lewis & Bockius found itself in the hot seat again this week over its representation of President Donald Trump after a client cut all connections with the firm based on moral objections.
In a letter addressed to the firm’s chair Jami McKeon, H. Scott Wallace, co-chair of the Wallace Global Fund, wrote that he was firing the firm because it was “painfully obvious” that its lawyers are enabling Trump to use the office of presidency for his own personal gain.
“We felt it was important to convey our decision … to the firm’s leadership, to invite you to think about larger principles,” Wallace wrote in a letter first reported by Politico.
The letter points the finger at Morgan Lewis partner Sherri Dillon, who appeared next to the president in a Jan. 11 press conference, where she announced she had devised a plan so that the public could rest easy that Trump’s sprawling real estate, hotel and other business interests would not create any conflicts with his elected role. As we noted at the time, many critics were not assured.
At the press conference, Dillon acknowledged that Trump was not divesting his business interests, and therefore a totally blind trust is not possible.
That was January, why is Wallace complaining now?
Because “the ethical carnage is mounting,” according to his letter which cataloged a list of objections to Trump, including that he’s been conducting business meetings at his own Florida resort, which has served as marketing; and that he criticized Nordstrom’s for dropping his daughter’s clothing line, among other objections.
Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics at New York University School of Law, was unimpressed by the hubbub surrounding the incident.
“It’s not common, but it does happen,” said Gillers, who pointed out that in 2011 King & Spaulding lost several clients after it decided to withdraw from an engagement defending the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that defined marriage as a union between man and woman.
But there is one way in which the situation may be unique: Gillers said he could think of no other example of a law firm that was fired because it represented a U.S. President.
“There’s no precedent for Trump,” he said. “There’s no president who’s been anything like him.”
Gillers added that clients can fire their lawyer for any reason or no reason at all.
Wallace himself is the grandson of Henry Wallace, the 33rd vice president of the U.S., and the fund supports grants and investments that support “social movements” that make the planet a more livable place, according to its website. He also attended Villanova Law, as did McKeon, graduating a few years before her, according to his letter.
As far as work, Wallace commended two Morgan Lewis partners in the Washington office, Celia Roady and Kimberley Eney, who both counsel private foundations on governance issues, for doing “good work for us over the years.” As Law.com’s Roy Strom dug out in tax records on guidestar, the fund itself listed only $77,433 in payments to Morgan Lewis for unspecified work in the last year, making it a small client.
We reached out to Morgan Lewis’ McKeon for comment and will update if we hear back.