There’s been quite a fire storm over the comments made by Akin Gump partner Paul Mirengoff regarding the memorial service for the victims of the recent Tucson shootings. Here are the facts:
- Mr. Mirengoff is one of three founders of the Powerline blog along with Faegre & Benson partner John Hinderaker and TCF National Bank senior vice president Scott Johnson, all of whom are also fellows at the Claremont Institute. Stanford Law School student Joe Malchow rounds out the Powerline roster.
- In his blog post (which has since been removed from the site), Mirengoff criticized the inclusion of a Native American prayer in the memorial service, indicating that the victims’ families “likely would have appreciated a prayer more closely aligned with their religious beliefs.”
- Akin Gump responded to Mirengoff’s post by way of a statement from James Meggesto, a partner in the firm’s American Indian law and policy practice; Meggesto’s statement also referenced an apology from Bruce McLean, chairman of the firm.
- Mirengoff subsequently removed the post from Powerline, and issued his own apology.
Notwithstanding the various issues of insensitivity, racism, and free speech that are involved, there are some serious marketing blunders here that seemed to have gone unnoticed.
First, somebody at Akin Gump had to have checked out Powerline prior to the post in question. From the banner advertising on its home page, to its recommended reading section, to the general nature of its content, this is a blog with a distinct agenda, and probably not one that reflects the views of all of the firm's clients. It doesn’t matter that Meggesto and the firm refer to Powerline as Mirengoff’s "personal blog." In the end, Mirengoff is an Akin Gump ambassador and his beliefs and visibility necessarily relate back to the firm and its institutional brand.
Second, Mirengoff doesn't appreciate the concept of personal branding, as evidenced by the fact that two of his colleagues at Powerline are a lawyer from a competing firm and a law student. Politically and ideologically, they may have similar beliefs, but they certainly can’t be said to have a coordinated business development strategy. Plus, what was Akin Gump's leadership thinking by allowing Mirengoff to participate in this venture in the first place? He absolutely has a right to his views, but the firm has the right to protect its image. One gets the sense that the marketing police were at the donut shop.
Next, Akin Gump is now a parody of its own tagline. Its audience now questions whether it truly does harness the “power of collaboration” given that it has seemingly rogue partners making statements contrary to the firm’s purported values and philosophies. You might as well put a big asterisk on the diversity section of Akin Gump’s website as well. That’s the kind of damage that can years to repair, not to mention the loss of business that will likely result when tribal nations the firm represents take their business elsewhere.
Lastly, with respect to damage control, neither Meggesto’s statement nor McLean’s apology appear anywhere on the Akin Gump website. You simply can’t find them (were it not for the link from the ABA Journal article online, I wouldn’t have discovered them). Try conducting a search for “powerline” or “apology” on the site – not there. Run a search for “mirengoff,” and you get his biography and publications. And if you run similar searches on Google, no links to Meggesto’s or McLean’s statements appear. I can only imagine the amount of defensive SEO dollars it would take to bury the bad publicity.
As the old adage goes, you have to inspect what you expect. More firms, rightfully, are emphasizing individual business development and personal branding efforts from their attorneys. But those firms need to keep a watchful eye and vigilantly monitor those activities to ensure that they are presented in the best possible light