I have been an attorney for over forty years - a frightening thing to admit - and have been in large old line firms, smaller firms and even maintained my own solo practice for 8 years after being forced out of a large firm for being gay. Typically, law firm are eager to represent high profile clients (and charge high profile fees), yet Donald Trump is finding it nearly impossible to retain top tier legal representation, especially in respect to the Russiagate investigation. It goes without saying, some are asking why. A column in the New York Times suggests that the refusal of law firms to countenance Trump as a client predates his occupancy of the White House given the campaign donations made by members of elite law firms who eschewed Trump unlike poorer, uneducated whites that my New Orleans belle grandmother would have dismissed as "poor white trash." The latter category put Trump in office, not the educated legal elites who likewise knew of Trump's abysmal history with attorneys which included not paying legal fees, lying, and not taking their advice. In short, a client like Trump not only carries a potential ethics complaint costs, but otherwises sullies one's reputation. Here are column excerpts:
In what is becoming one of the most remarkable chapters in American legal history, [Donald Trump]
the president of the United Statesis in serious need of top-notch legal help, but apparently cannot find top-notch lawyers to represent him.
As Robert Mueller’s Russia probe moves forward, the Trump administration has approached a slew of prominent law firms and attorneys, only to be told that while, in the words of Dan Webb and Tom Buchanan of Winston & Strawn, “the opportunity to represent the president [is] the highest honor” that can come a lawyer’s way, they must respectfully decline that honor. This left the president relying on a legal team who, with the exception of former Hogan Lovells lawyer Ty Cobb, features no criminal defense lawyers, let alone attorneys with experience in the sort of investigation Mr. Mueller is conducting.
The reasons top firms and lawyers are giving for refusing to work for Trump include conflicts of interests with current clients, the possibility of alienating sources of future business, the president’s reluctance to follow legal advice, his tendency to ask lawyers to engage in what Ted Boutrous of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher referred to delicately as “questionable activities,” and his history of not paying his bills.
Although these reasons for not taking on the president as a client are plausible, it seems something more profound is at work.
[C]ampaign contributions to presidential candidates from lawyers at America’s top law firms suggest strongly that the antipathy toward Trump among elite lawyers is especially intense.
I examined federal records of presidential campaign contributions in 2012 and 2016 at the nation’s 10 highest-ranked law firms and other elite institutions known for their political and economic influence, such as Goldman Sachs. The results were striking.
Of the 4,812 contributions originating from these companies, Mr. Trump received a total of 40. Meanwhile, contributions to Hillary Clinton outnumbered those to Mr. Trump by a ratio of more than 100 to 1. . . . . compared with the support they gave to Mr. Romney, contributions from lawyers at these elite firms to Mr. Trump declined by a remarkable 98 percent.
Some of the reluctance to contribute to the Trump campaign may be explained by the belief that he was unlikely to win. Yet the shift in support among elite lawyers between the Democratic and Republican nominees in 2012 and 2016 is extraordinary.
The revealed preferences, in the form of 2016 campaign contributions, of these elite professionals suggest that Mr. Trump’s inability to hire top lawyers to help him with his mounting legal troubles is not merely because he has various hallmarks of a troublesome client. Rather, they suggest the depth of the misgivings Mr. Trump has raised among American elites, and which persist today.
Of course, those misgivings do not appear to extend to one particularly crucial elite: the leadership of the Republican Party. Whether that changes because of the outcome of the Mueller investigation, and in particular because of whatever role the refusal of so many elite lawyers to represent the president plays in that outcome, remains to be seen.