BP, Disasters / Emergencies, Jamie Gorelick

Can Jamie Gorelick Clean Up BP’s Mess?

Jamie Gorelick is a Washington D.C. power lawyer. She’s a former Deputy Attorney General, former general counsel to the Defense Department, and current partner at WilmerHale, where she chairs the national security and public policy practice groups. She’s had — and continues to have — an amazing career.

But does she really want to be the legal face of the BP disaster?

Former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick will head the legal team for British oil giant BP PLC as it prepares to respond to legal challenges related to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Greenwire reported Wednesday.

“We have been retained to help the company respond to the numerous congressional inquiries that are underway,” Gorelick, now of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, said in an e-mail to Greenwire. “We have not been retained to advocate for any position.”

Does WilmerHale really want this? Yesterday, the Daily News called BP’s CEO Tony Hayward the most hated man in America — and the headline was probably an understatement. There’s a new Facebook group entitled I vote we plug the Gulf oil leak with BP executives.

Do Gorelick and WilmerHale really want to be the lawyers for his company? Isn’t there some white-baby-killing, terrorist Nazi out there who would make for a more sympathetic client right now?

Oh, but the fees, the fees…

Truth is, every top firm was probably fighting tooth and nail for this business. Skadden’s already found a way to get a piece of this pie, as have Patton Boggs and Kirkland & Ellis. WilmerHale’s on-campus recruiting packets have probably already been updated to reference the firm’s stellar representation of BP during this crisis. This is high-profile, cutting-edge, “exciting” legal work. You can bet that this fall some law student will chose to summer at WilmerHale over another firm because of Wilmer’s involvement in this matter.

In our world, Wilmer taking this case is a no brainer.

But how is this going to play in the real world? At least when defense attorneys represent maniacal serial killers, they can fall back on the nobility of the legal profession, where everybody is entitled to a competent defense. It might be a lot harder to see the nobility of doing inside-the-Beltway arm twisting on behalf of BP’s best approximation of the Chicxulub meteor.

Even Gorelick’s statement reminds one of the Wizard of Oz’s famous last press conference: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” Will the public buy that “responding to Congressional inquires” is materially different from “advocat[ing] for any position” — especially when responding to Congressional inquiries involves appearing on camera at televised hearings?

Lawyers are always “advocating” for one thing or another; that’s what they get paid to do. BP didn’t just hire WilmerHale to do the clerical work of putting documents in boxes and sending it to Congress; BP hired WilmerHale to help them fight Congress over which documents should be in the box.

And, of course, BP should do that. Who knows where this will end up, but anything short of everybody who works for BP being forced to subsist on a diet of bread and oil for the rest of their days has to be considered a victory. They’ve got to fight where they can, and they should retain the best possible counsel to help them do it.

It’s just a bit interesting that WilmerHale (or any high-profile firm) would want to do that heavy lifting for BP. Wilmer should ask its new clients what happens to your corporate name when it starts spewing up all over the Louisiana coastline.

If WilmerHale becomes the legal face of BP, getting rid of that stain might be harder than — here’s the pun you’ve been waiting for — getting oil out of water.

Gorelick to Head BP Team [Main Justice]
BP, Halliburton, Transocean Build Legal Teams [Greenwire / New York Times]

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