Postscript: As of January 28, 2011--two days after the Careerist's post on this matter--Paul Mirengoff announced that he's quitting his blog on Powerline.
As an unrepentant, sometimes politically incorrect blogger, I'm generally all in favor of people shooting off their mouths. I instinctively cringe when I hear about how firms or companies try to curb their employees' right of free speech.
But the latest rants by Akin Gump partner Paul Mirengoff on the conservative blog Powerline are making me rethink my position. From the law firm's point of view, I can see how uncontrolled blogging lawyers could cost firms big bucks.
Here's what happened: Mirengoff, an employment law partner in the D.C. office, blogged about the memorial service for the victims of the recent Arizona shootings. In particular, reports Indianz.com (a Native American site), he mocked the prayer delivered by Carlos Gonzales, a member of an Arizona tribe. (Hat tip: ABA Journal blog.) Here's what he wrote:
It was apparently some sort of Yaqui Indian tribal thing, with lots of references to "the creator" but no mention of God. Several of the victims were, as I understand it, quite religious in that quaint Christian kind of way (none, to my knowledge, was a Yaqui). They (and their families) likely would have appreciated a prayer more closely aligned with their religious beliefs.
Most firms wouldn't give a hoot about the personal rants of their lawyers except for one sticky fact: Akin Gump happens to have a thriving Native American tribes practice. Oops.
But to give the firm credit, it acted quickly. Three apologies were fired off almost immediately--though it's unclear in what order they were sent. James Meggesto, a partner in the Native American practice at the firm, posted the following on Akin Gump's Web site:
As an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation; as an attorney who has dedicated his life and law practice to the representation of Indian tribes, tribal organizations, and tribal interests; and as a partner in the American Indian law and policy practice at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, I was shocked, appalled and embarrassed by a recent Web posting by another Akin Gump partner, Paul Mirengoff. . . . As soon as I and the firm became aware of this posting, the firm took immediate action to deal firmly with this unfortunate situation. Accordingly, Bruce McLean, chairman of the firm, issued the following statement: “We sincerely apologize for the blog entry posted by Akin Gump partner Paul Mirengoff on his personal blog, powerlineblog.com. Akin Gump is neither affiliated with, nor a supporter of, the blog. We found his remarks to be insensitive and wholly inconsistent with Akin Gump’s values. . . .
Mirengoff also fell on his sword, and issued the following apology (which is both on his blog and the firm Web site):
In a post last night, I criticized the use of a Yaqui prayer as the invocation to the memorial service in Tucson. In doing so, I failed to give the prayer the respect it deserves. Although I did not intend this as a slight to the religion or to the Yaqui tribe, it can clearly be interpreted as one. For this, I sincerely apologize to my readers, to the Yaqui tribe, to all tribal leaders and Indian people and, specifically, to Carlos Gonzales, who delivered the prayer. I regret my poor choice of words, and I have removed the post.
The big question, of course, is whether firms should have a social media policy. And if so, how far should firms go in monitoring what lawyers say? Do lawyers have to clear what they say in articles, blogs, tweets, or even on Facebook? (Akin Gump spokeswoman Kathryn Holmes Johnson told the ABA Journal blog that the firm's social media policy is now under review.)
Despite his contrition, Mirengoff probably voiced what he honestly felt about the Yaqui prayer--and then he had to take it all back. Which makes him a you-know-what kind of giver.
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