The Plank

When It's Bad To Be Good At Your Job

From today's NYT front-pager on the legal work Kirsten Gillibrand once did for Philip Morris:

Ms. Gillibrand, 42, a former upstate congresswoman who is still
unknown to many New Yorkers and is preparing to defend her Senate seat
in an election next year, is reluctant to discuss her work on behalf of
the tobacco company. After initially agreeing to be interviewed by The
New York Times, the senator canceled through her spokesman, Matt
Canter, who said that focusing on Philip Morris would not reflect the
range of her work as a lawyer, which also included representing pro
bono clients, including abused women and families contending with lead
paint in their homes..

Senator Gillibrand
was serving as a young associate when she was assigned this case,” Mr.
Canter said. “It is a small part of her 15-year legal career.”

He
stressed that like other tobacco lawyers, she was not at liberty to
discuss her work for Philip Morris because of attorney-client privilege.

But those who recall Ms. Gillibrand’s
days as a young lawyer say she was capable and eager as she plunged
into the high-stakes and lucrative world of tobacco defense work.

“The
client was always in her office,” said her former Davis Polk colleague
Vincent Chang, who spoke glowingly of Ms. Gillibrand. “She was probably
accorded more responsibility than the average associate by far.”

The sad thing is, Chang almost certainly thought he was helping Gillibrand (and maybe, given her new status, helping himself) with this quote. He was probably asked something like, "What kind of lawyer was Gillibrand? Did she do a good job on the Philip Morris case?" And he sang her praises, without realizing that the fact that she did her old job well would be a liability in her new one.

P.S. Chang thought highly enough of Gillibrand that he donated to her Congressional race in 2006; all his other contributions, it appears, were to Republicans.

--Jason Zengerle

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