You’ve probably seen the “Donald Trump represented on ethics issue by Russian law firm of the year” story. And if you paid it only fleeting attention, you may not have recognized it as a classic instance of outrage clickbait fluff.
The firm turns out to be the venerable and far-flung firm of Morgan Lewis & Bockius, eighth largest in the U.S. and thirteenth largest in the world, per the American Lawyer rankings. Sheri Dillon, a tax specialist associated with Morgan’s Washington, D.C. office, was on hand at the press conference to assist Trump in his presentation on conflict of interest avoidance. Typical of BigLaw firms, Morgan employs much high-level legal talent — Texas Senator Ted Cruz practiced there — and represents all sorts of figures in public life and the political world. Not unusually for a world BigLaw leader, Morgan has an office in Moscow among its dozens of other offices worldwide; that outpost won plaudits for its success by one private group that rates lawyers.
As Snopes soon found, “Donald Trump is not the only high-level politician to have engaged the services of Morgan Lewis. In October 2016, Hillary Clinton used the firm” to help vet potential appointees. The Barack Obama campaign also used Morgan’s services.
Outfits that saw fit to treat this tale as important news included CNN, The Daily Beast, The Week (“Just let that sink in for a second”), The Independent, and many more. In some cases, publications circled back with rewrites as word began to get out that it might be sort of a non-story after all: whatever interesting connections there might be between Trump and Russia, this wasn’t one of them. In the meantime, the story had gotten countless thousands of outrage-shares.
For a somewhat similar instance of randomly connecting BigLaw dots in a wildly misleading way that failed to go viral — it concerned the firm of Sutherland, Asbill, and Brennan, also known for its tax expertise — see this 2013 post.