Biglaw firms really have two good responses when an international crisis shines a light on how they’ve gotten hip-deep in Russian government clients (or at least involved with clients facing edicts to cut off existing relationships with Russian entities). First, they can announce that they’re dropping these Russian entities immediately in light of the overwhelming international economic crackdown on Vladimir Putin’s regime. Second, they can keep a low profile while trying to find a graceful exit strategy if the specific work carries professional obligations that prevent the firm from dropping the client on a dime.
What firms don’t want to do is make it look like they’ve got something to hide by sending a confusing message to their thousands of attorneys about keeping their mouths shut about what’s going on.
Norton Rose woke up and chose this route.
Norton Rose Fulbright has issued an ‘internal notice relating specifically to external commentary on sanctions’, a spokesperson confirmed to the Gazette, adding that the firm has ‘appropriate risk management policies in place across our global business’.
They said: ‘Our sanctions team is advising clients across the world and, given the rapidly evolving situation, it is important that this advice is provided directly, through the appropriate channels. We therefore recently issued an internal notice relating specifically to external commentary on sanctions.
Um… what does that mean? The most generous interpretation is simply that attorneys should decline to offer themselves to the media as experts on the sanctions process while the firm is trying to advise clients directly. Ideally, the firm would clarify that this only relates to sanctions and not the crisis itself.
But without that clarity, the statement certainly seems to suggest “we don’t want to see any NRF employees on social media expressing support for isolating Putin.” As one might imagine, this got people very angry.
And at least one of those people appears to be senior Norton Rose management.
Biglawboiz captured this:
Hopefully, Soliman’s read prevails within Norton Rose.
Because it’s one thing for a sprawling firm to tell lawyers that the right hand shouldn’t offer legal advice to the newspaper while the left hand is trying to sort out a oil and gas forward contract. It’s another to tell the firm to not talk.
Norton Rose tells lawyers: no ‘external commentary’ on Russian sanctions [Law Society Gazette]
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.