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The Lawyer as Pimp

Vivia Chen

February 20, 2018

Michael-Cohen-ArtI've been covering the legal profession forever, so I'm hardly dewy-eyed about lawyers. I've been around lauded legends as well as lawyers in the crosshair of criticism, but at the end of the day, I think everyone is just trying to do his or her best and make a living. 

I accept the fact that lawyers can be tough and rough in their advocacy, and that their clients might be unsavory. I don't expect them to be Atticus Finch. They are hired guns—and I'm fine with that. Truly.

But how did lawyers morph from being skilled fixers to pimps?

Maybe it was always a slippery slope, but Michael Cohen seemed to have glided into that role with alarming alacrity.

I'm talking about his recent admission that he paid porn actress Stormy Daniels (real name: Stephanie Clifford) $130,000 in 2016 to keep her quiet about her alleged affair with President Donald Trump. Wall Street Journal broke the news about that payment. Just recently, Cohen confirmed the payment to The New York Times with this statement:

Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly. The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.

How magnanimous. Cohen seems to be suggesting that he paid her off out of the goodness of his heart, perhaps out of a deep sense of patriotism. (Note, though, that he didn't say whether Don Jr., Ivanka or someone else in Trump's orbit paid him back with cash or in kind.)

Though there's no indication that Cohen procured Daniels and other women for Trump's pleasure or that he took a percentage of Daniels' $130,000 payment, I think "pimp" captures the spirit of his job. He was the facilitator-extraordinaire of the  Trump-Daniel's sexual transaction, albeit after the act. He might as well have cleaned up the soiled bedsheets too.

There's a lot of speculation about whether Cohen did something illegal or unethical, but I don't think we even need to go there to find his actions degrading—both to him and the profession. How is it that a (once) reputable lawyer (he was a partner at Phillips Nizer) be reduced to mopping up the mess left over from an affair between a libertine presidential hopeful and a porn star? 

Sadly, though, Cohen doesn't seem to be the only lawyer who's fallen into this line of work. In a recent New Yorker article by Ronan Farrow, lawyers played a key part in silencing another alleged Trump mistress. Farrow describes how Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, was paid $150,000 just days before the 2016 presidential election by American Media, Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer, for rights to her story, in order to bury it. (AMI's owner David Pecker is a friend of Trump's.) Brokering that deal was another lawyer Keith Davidson, who's made quite a career from these arrangements. 

Participating in the strategy, according to Farrow’s story, was Cameron Stracher, the general counsel of AMI, who communicated with McDougal about a possible contract renewal and magazine cover and was on a call where promises were made to boost her career.. Stracher's role is also described in another New Yorker article about AMI's Pecker. (Fun fact: I know Stracher because he used to write for The American Lawyer. We were on friendly terms but lost touch over the years.)

The question that comes to me over and over again is why any decent lawyer would want to be part of this icky business? 

I know lawyering can be a dirty job, but does it have to be shameful?

 [email protected]


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We recently had this conversation at our firm - that lawyers should NOT be Pimps for their clients. The disclaimer on the payment is interesting for what is NOT said - he does NOT say that Trump did not repay him directly; he does NOT say that his firm was not compensated in some form; he does NOT say that he did not indirectly recoup the payment through billing’s by his firm.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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