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Watch What You Say -- YouTube Edition

In what could be a case study for a lecture on law firm public relations, lawyers at a Pittsburgh firm are finding their words come back to haunt them, courtesy of YouTube and a disgruntled computer programmer. At a May 15 immigration law seminar, lawyers from the immigration practice at Cohen & Grigsby gave tips on how U.S. employers can skirt federal requirements that they seek qualified American workers before applying for a green card for a foreign worker. The firm posted video of the seminar online as a marketing maneuver.

One speaker featured on the video was Lawrence Lebowitz, a Cohen & Grigsby immigration attorney and the firm's vice president of marketing. Writing today in The Legal Intelligencer, reporter Gina Passarella relates what he said:

"'Our goal is clearly not to find a qualified and interested U.S. worker,' Lebowitz said. 'And, you know, that, in a sense, that sounds funny, but it's what we're trying to do here.'

"Other panelists laid out ways in which employers could comport with the federal requirements for advertising to American workers, but could limit the number of potential applicants. Advertising in papers with lower circulation was one example given."

Kim Berry, president of the Programmers Guild, saw the video and was irate. He shortened the video, added subtitles and music for emphasis and posted it to YouTube. The result, as both The Legal Intelligencer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called it, was a "firestorm" on the Internet and in the news media. Consider:

  • As of the morning of June 25, more than 120,000 viewers have downloaded the video.
  • CNN's Lou Dobbs aired an unflattering piece on the seminar.
  • U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, sent a letter to Cohen & Grigsby asking the firm to explain its advice and another to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao asking her to investigate the firm's "unethical procedures and advice."
  • In addition to the news reports mentioned above, the video has been covered by Information Week, Business Week, Associated Press and a host of other news outlets.
  • Any number of blogs have picked up the story, from high-profile political blogs such as Daily Kos to high-profile legal blogs such as LexBlog and Overlawyered.

So amidst this firestorm, what is the law firm's response? It issued a statement saying, "[W]e stand by the substance of our recent Immigration Law Update Seminar. We regret the choice of words that was used during a small segment of the seminar. It is unfortunate that these statements have been commandeered and misused, which runs contrary to our intent."

Now back to that PR lecture I mentioned at the outset. To my mind, the firm's response translates to this: "We did nothing wrong, and we are the victims here." Was this the right response? I don't think so. If ever there was a time to eat crow, this was it. What do you think?

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on June 25, 2007 at 05:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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