On Sex and the City, Samantha was never seen scrolling through comments on news blogs to make sure her clients’ reputations weren’t being maligned. Instead, she attended fancy New York parties and talked up her roster of good-looking clients.

But SATC is dated. The work of public relations professionals has been made harder (and less glamorous) by the explosion of online news sources. We know that law firm PR folks spend a healthy amount of time monitoring the legal blogosphere to do damage control for their firms. Another place they need to watch is Wikipedia.

The crowd-source encyclopedia has become the go-to reference site for most Internetters. Society’s sages often warn people not to take everything they find in Wikipedia at face value — since the information does not necessarily come from experts and is not systematically vetted — but that advice often goes unheeded.

Because Wikipedia is such an important source of information, and so easily edited, some try to manipulate entries to give them a positive or negative spin. Lawyers at certain firms have been found guilty of this before (e.g., Wachtell). Sometimes dueling manipulation of an entry reaches the level of what Wikipedia calls an edit war — when two or more editors are continually overriding one another’s changes.

The Wikipedia gods ordered an end to the war on the page of Latham & Watkins. BLY1 noticed that the page was put on lockdown. A note from the Wikipedia war god says:

NOTE: IF YOU HAVE COME HERE TO EDIT ABOUT LAYOFFS, THINK TWICE. EDITS MUST BE FACTUALLY VERIFIABLE, AND NEUTRAL. IF YOU ARE CONNECTED TO THIS COMPANY IN ANY WAY WE ADVISE YOU *NOT* TO TOUCH IT.

Someone kept inserting references to Latham’s layoffs and how hard hit first-year associates were. That info has now been scrubbed from the page.

We decided to take a stroll though the revision history of other law firm pages to see who needs to do clean up, and who has done clean up. Cravath, for example, had a very interesting description for a short time…

In 2008, an editor added some colorful description to Cravath’s Wikipedia page:

Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP (“Cravath”) is an international law firm, based in New York City with an additional office in London. Cravath has existed since 1819 and is regarded by many as the most prestigious law firm in the United States.

However, Cravath has spawned two recent sex scandals. One tax lawyer went to jail for paying to have sex with minor children. He his suing Cravath for back pay. The New Yorker ran a long srticle on another real estate partner who died in a cheap motel at the hands of a young black male hooker. Both Cravath attorneys were married.

One wonders if the arrogance and self absorption often attributed to Cravath personalities leads to this aberrant behavior. The high divorce rate and rumours that Cravath partners feel a sense of self entitlement may explain these scandals. No reliable data exists on how many Cravath men are cheating on their wives or engaged in bisexual affairs like the real estate partner. However, when the movie The First Wives Club was released, first wives of Cravath partners were interviewed in the New York Times. Gay attorneys are welcome.

Judging from the spelling of “rumours,” the culprit is a Brit. Another editor fixed this, getting rid of the absurd description of Cravath types as arrogant and self-absorbed… and made another little correction:

Cravath has existed since 1819 and is regarded by many as the most prestigious law firm in the United States world.

Here were some of the more amusing Wikipedia changes we came across:

  • K&L Gates’s entire entry was replaced by “Hires people who slaughter innocent women and shatter lives.”
  • An editor of Skadden Arps’s page was accused of “fan-boy” fawning. What? Is there a limit to the amount of times you can use “prestigious” in one entry?
  • Someone is fanatical about linking Covington & Burling with Skulls & Bones and the Illuminati. Maybe that’s where this senior counsel gets inspiration for his conspiracy novels?
  • Sullivan & Cromwell had some haters dabbling in its entry in 2007.
  • Latham is not the only firm dealing with layoff insertions. See also SullCrom, DLA Piper, and Kirkland. Covington & Burling’s page also has a layoff section, for the purpose of noting that they haven’t had any.
  • White & Case’s page could use some corrective editing.
  • Quinn Emanuel is transparent about its changes. An editor named “Quinnemanuel” explained when making an edit: “I work for the Marketing Dept. at Quinn Emanuel, and per the request of John Quinn, I have updated this page to reflect current statistics, rankings, and firm information.” It’s not surprising that Quinn pays attention to Wikipedia — he’s a new media-savvy kind of guy. Despite the transparency, though, the Wikipedia gods blocked the user.

Let that be a lesson to you. If you are going to manipulate your firm’s entry, make sure to do it with a random user name, and an IP address not affiliated with your office.

Edit War: Battle of Latham [BLY1]

Earlier: Wachtell and Wikipedia: Not So Perfect Together?
NALP 2010: Dealing with Online Media


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