Jones Day Is Divided Between 'MAGA Jones Day' And 'Lawyers Who Enable MAGA Jones Day' – Above the Law

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Around legal journalism it’s almost cliché to note that Jones Day is the lawyerly face of the Trump movement. We’ve covered the firm’s rightward drift for years and, relatively recently, the rest of America started hearing a bit about it too. But most of the country is still unaware about this Cleveland law firm that transformed into an international conservative grievance engine.
David Enrich, author of the upcoming book Servants of the Damned (affiliate link), wrote a piece in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine about the role Jones Day played — and continues to play — in the Trumpist movement. There are a lot of wild details about how the Jones Day network turned the federal government into its personal playground, but what really shines through is how the firm’s right-wing hobby horse project is both one of the smallest and yet most important parts of the firm.
Enrich lays out the story of a corporate law firm that took its big bucks from representing Big Tobacco and Savings and Loan charlatans and decided to build an internal second firm devoted to reactionary causes. As Enrich explains, the ball really got rolling when Stephen Brogan took over as managing partner in 2003.
Brogan brought on a series of high-profile devotees of the Federalist Society — including leading Reagan and Bush administration lawyers like Michael Carvin and Noel Francisco — to work in the firm’s issues-and-appeals practice, which became a sort of in-house conservative think tank. Even as most of the firm’s lawyers remained focused on bread-and-butter work for big companies, Jones Day took on a growing list of ideologically charged cases and causes, including efforts by the ultraconservative Buckeye Institute to prevent the expansion of early voting in Ohio and challenge the legitimacy of the Obama administration’s newly inaugurated Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
On one hand, congratulations on spotting a new market. On the other hand, this work is clearly a drop in the bucket for a global law firm — it’s really just an opportunity to divert firm largess toward eroding constitutional order for funsies! Most firms have a nice charity they build pro bono work around, Jones Day has throwing out Pennsylvania ballots. Potato, po-tah-to.
But this side project representing Republicans became more gravely serious when it morphed into creating the right-wing’s legal farm team ready to step in and yank the levers of power toward their own ends when Trump got into office. And, of course, populating the federal judiciary with its non-qualified associates!
Former Jones Day partner Mark Herrmann defended the firm in his Above the Law column today:
I have this to say about all of that: Jones Day has about 2,500 lawyers. How many of those 2,500 worked on Trump stuff? 20? 30? 50? I can’t believe it was more than that; 50 lawyers staffs up an awful lot of big projects.
So what’s the average schlub partner in the Cleveland, or Los Angeles, or London office of Jones Day thinking about while those 50-ish lawyers are off doing their Trump things? “That Trump stuff might be a little offensive to me, but I’ve got other things to worry about — like tending to big corporate litigation or mergers and acquisitions.”
True, if irrelevant. There are a ton of Jones Day lawyers out there doing entirely benign work. And their financial and reputational contributions are funneled into voter suppression and helping companies deny healthcare to women. It’s like one of those multi-level marketing cults where novice acolytes pump in money blissfully ignorant of what the “Operational Tauntaun Level 7s” do with all that cash. If you want to keep your head down and say “I just represent harmless opioid producers” that’s your right, but that doesn’t make it true — you’re a cog in a machine built to enable the legal arm of MAGA.
Herrmann continues:
Moreover, be honest: Most of you would have an extraordinarily hard time turning down a high-ranking government job, even if the job were offered by an administration of which you were skeptical.
To be clear, if the Trump administration asked me to be Solicitor General, I’d have certainly taken the position if only for the LOLZ. The point is the Trump administration wasn’t going to ask me to be Solicitor General. Enrich isn’t criticizing individual Jones Day alums for choosing to join the Trump administration, his argument is that Jones Day deliberately positioned itself to be Donald Trump’s first call when looking for nominees. It may only be “50-ish lawyers,” but shrugging that off is akin to shrugging off a string of police shootings as “a couple of bad apples.”
But bad apples spoil bunches. Some of the most highly recruited attorneys in the Jones Day arsenal — with more liberal views than the firm’s most famous voices — complained about the firm’s increasingly toxic brand. Enrich reports that those folks have left. And the concerns have spread to some close to leadership:
Even some of Brogan’s allies told me they worried that the firm was approaching a point at which this would become a problem for clients. Big companies, after all, had been increasingly vocal about their opposition to Trump’s extreme policies and rhetoric. Brogan’s advisers suggested that he pull back. He forged ahead.
And that’s the real nut of it. As long as Jones Day brands itself as MAGA’s chief counsel, those non-partisan books of business are going to suffer. At some point rainmakers outside of the firm’s political arm — even if they’re also relatively conservative — are going to bolt just to avoid the headache.
And they should do it earlier than later because this issue isn’t going away.
How a Corporate Law Firm Led a Political Revolution [New York Times Magazine]
Earlier: A Short Defense Of Jones Day
Yesterday Was The Day America Learned What We’ve Known About Jones Day All Along
GOP Lawyer Slams Trump For Undermining Election Confidence Despite Long Career Of Undermining Election Confidence
HeadshotJoe 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.
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