Correction: We initially said Gregg Hartley is a lawyer. He is not. He’s a lobbyist, and the post is updated to reflect as much.
Before you send an angry letter, put it in a drawer overnight.
That’s the advice thousands of partners have given young lawyers. Of course, email made that advice more difficult to stick to (it’s just too easy to hit send) and now, it seems, Twitter is further chipping away at this old adage.
When Cassidy & Associates vice chairman Gregg Hartley thought the author of a New York Times story about his client, Equatorial Guinea, had a conflict of interest, he tweeted about it. The National Law Journal’s Carrie Levine covered the story here.
How does NY Times manage its reporter’s conflicts of interest? Not well. Re: Equatorial Guinea, father was a judge in controversial case.
Hartley is not a lawyer — he’s a lobbyist, but the story has a legal bent, and it made us think about commenting about clients via Twitter.
The NYT journalist, Ian Urbina, is the son of U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina, who, the NLJ reports, oversaw a case where a prominent D.C. man plead guilty to failing report suspicious transactions; some of the bank accounts at issue were held by leaders of Equatorial Guinea.
The NYT told Levine that Urbina had disclosed his father’s connection and said there was no conflict and Urbina’s father’s role had “no bearing on the article.”
Obviously this tweet was not opposing-counsel related — Hartley is a hired gun and talking to the press for his clients is his job.
We think most lawyers would shy away from client-related tweets, in part because an off-hand remark can become a story. Plus, as is the nature of twittering, it’s often a quick comment made without support.
Hartley admits as much: “I was a little fired up at the moment and so used the Twitter to express my frustration at mainline journalism,” he said. He also told Levine he had not investigated what he had heard about Urbina’s connection to the judge, but that’s no worry, either.
“Here’s one thing about social media. You don’t have to always be right,” he said. He did tell the NLJ he would correct via tweet, were he wrong.
At least one commentator, who drew up a list of do’s and don’t for twittering lawyers that would separate what a lobbyist might do from what an attorney should. “[D]on’t tweet anything about a client without explicit permission,” he said.
Levine’s tweet, even if by an attorney, would probably be no harm, no foul. But it’s a funny example of the old “stick it in a drawer.” Some lawyers think sticking it in a drawer is good. And others think that the no-holds-barred advocacy, immediate attack route, is the way to go. Which one are you?
(If you’re wondering, Hartley is this very minute heading to “the JavaShop b4 heading into DC.” Twitter told me.)
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