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“Examine the ethical reputation of the law firm”

Anne Chwat, the general counsel for Burger King Holdings, explains in a recent profile how her department selects outside counsel. She cites expertise as a crucial factor and then says that “we examine not only the credentials and ethical reputation of the law firm, but also the background and expertise of the specific attorneys who will be working with us.” The comment on “ethical reputation,” from Corp. Counsel, Vol. 15, Sept. 2008 at 71, intrigues me.

It is common for requests for proposal to ask about the malpractice insurance carried by a law firm. Some RFPs even ask for information about recent claims against the firm. But how Burger King’s in-house lawyers research the ethical reputation of a law firm is beyond me.

As an experiment, I searched on Google for “ethical reputation” and the names of three large New York City firms (Skadden, Davis Polk and Sullivan Cromwell). A total of nine hits came up (7, 1, and 1 respectively) and only one of those appeared from the squib to say something about the law firm and its ethical reputation. In short, precious little data exist on the ethical renown of at least these three major firms.