Monday, January 9, 2006

The Collateral Consequences of the Abramoff Plea

The consequences of the Abramoff Plea are felt not only in the political community, but also in the legal sphere.  The NYTimes reports here on the impact of this plea on the law firm of Greenberg Traurig. Although one can find no mention of Jack Abramoff on the website of the law firm here, the past association will certainly be an issue for the firm. Likewise, the firm is not mentioned in the Information filed against Abramoff (here), with the references only being to Firm A and Firm B, and the firm referred to in the Information is not accused of any wrongdoing.

But even without any wrongdoing, there can be a collateral consequence from the firm's mere association with Jack Abramoff.  Even when a law firm knows nothing, takes immediate action upon learning of a problem, does an internal investigation, and cooperates with the government, the association can be problematic.  The question will always be whether they should or could have known sooner, even when there is no evidence that this would be possible.

Many law firms, whether or not they engage in lobbying, will start scrutinizing their partners in more detail to make sure that none of these individuals have connections or engage in illegal activities. Future partners will also be looking at law firms from a new perspective.  Will this firm quickly abandon you if there is an allegation that you have engaged in wrongdoing?  And will they be cooperating with the government against you?  Obviously when no one does anything wrong this is not problem.  And the illegalities in the Jack Abramoff case are clear as set forth in his plea. But in some cases, the fine line between acceptable business practices and  illegality may be difficult to discern.


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