April 8, 2011 10:52 AM
What's the Deal with Cromwell & Goodwin?
Posted by Brian Baxter
At first glance the home page of the seemingly slick Cromwell & Goodwin Web site--with the Statue of Liberty set against the Manhattan skyline and the tagline "The best legal solution" prominently displayed--certainly looks like the online home of a legitimate law firm. Look a bit deeper, though, and serious questions arise.
In fact, Cromwell & Goodwin appears to be a law firm in name only. No one contacted by The Am Law Daily has ever heard of it. The supposedly three-decades-old firm's Web site, cromwellgoodwin.com, only launched on March 19. And the address listed for the firm's New York headquarters doesn't exist.
The mystery surrounding the apparently fake firm began last week with the posting of a press release on a free publicity distribution service called PRLog.org about Cromwell & Goodwin's purported involvement in an upcoming conference of M&A advisers where the topic would be telecommunications consolidation projects in emerging markets.
The release included contact information for Cromwell & Goodwin and claimed that a representative from the "firm" would be joined on the panel by individuals from Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Credit Suisse, and Clifford Chance. The release included a specific reference to Joachim Fleury, a London-based Clifford Chance M&A partner, as "Global Head of Cromwell & Goodwin, Clifford Chance, one of the world's leading law firms."
But neither Clifford Chance nor Fleury have ever heard of Cromwell & Goodwin, according to a spokesman for the Magic Circle firm, nor were they aware of the conference that the release states is scheduled for April 26-27 at the Sharq Village Hotel Doha in Doha, Qatar.
All of The Am Law Daily's calls to the number listed on Cromwell & Goodwin's Web site to inquire about the conference went straight to voicemail and were never returned.
Next stop: Cromwell & Goodwin's New York office, identified on its Web site as 221 East 18th Street, Suite #1. We discovered that the address, located in Manhattan's residential Gramercy neighborhood, does not exist. A doorman in an apartment building located at 211 East 18th Street told us that there is no 221 East 18th Street.
A search of Internet domain records reveals that Cromwell & Goodwin's Web site was created on March 19. A company based in Westchester, Calif., Namecheap.com, is listed as the administrative contact for the site. A message left with the company was not returned. (A search of the U.S. Copyright Office database also yielded no information about Cromwell & Goodwin, despite the presence of a copyright symbol on its Web site.)
We contacted Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman litigation partner David Keyko, a former chair of the professional responsibility committee of The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, to get some idea of the consequences for concocting a make-believe law firm. Keyko says that Cromwell & Goodwin does indeed appear to be fictitious. And that, he says, doesn't bode well for whoever created it.
"It's illegal in most jurisdictions, including New York, to pass yourself off as a lawyer or a law firm if you're not," Keyko says. "It's currently a misdemeanor . . . and historically the unauthorized practice of law statutes have been used exactly for this purpose--to go after people passing themselves off as lawyers who are not."
Keyko, who spent some time reviewing the Cromwell & Goodwin Web site at The Am Law Daily's request, noted that the language on the site appears inconsistent in places. For instance, supposed name partner Liberty Goodwin's name is spelled two different ways. And none of the five "lawyers" listed, including so-called managing partner Edward Cromwell, are registered with the New York Bar.
A section of the Web site related to pro bono work states: "[The firm] is a founding member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project and a signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge. The firm has annually made and met a commitment to donate 3 percent of our billable hours to pro bono services. That represents an average of more than 50 hours of pro bono work annually for each lawyer, equal to more than 40,000 hours firm wide. We have met or exceeded the Challenge every year since its inception in 1994."
But Cromwell & Goodwin does not appear on a list of signatories to the Pro Bono Institute's Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge. And when contacted by The Am Law Daily, the Pro Bono Institute said it had never heard of Cromwell & Goodwin and that no firm by that name had ever participated in the project.
We contacted Sullivan & Cromwell and Goodwin Procter to determine whether either firm--parts of whose names could be confused with the Cromwell & Goodwin moniker--knew anything about Cromwell & Goodwin. A Goodwin Procter spokesman told us he was referring the matter to the firm's general counsel. Sullivan & Cromwell did not respond.
Keyko says he first thought that perhaps the Cromwell & Goodwin site might be part a government sting operation. Asked if a front for such an operation would publish information connected to actual individuals and businesses, such as the press release mentioning Clifford Chance and Fleury, Keyko says that the government wouldn't do so without "clueing in" those individuals beforehand.
Meanwhile, if the site is part of some kind of scam, Keyko is confused about how it's supposed to work. "It appears they're after small businesses, but it doesn't make sense to set up something like this if you're trying to scam someone if you can't get through on the phone number and there's no address to actually go there," he says. "How are you going to get business?"
And even if Cromwell & Goodwin was created as a joke, its backers may not be laughing for long. Last week, Keyko contacted the special prosecutions bureau of the New York County District Attorney's Office, which investigates the unauthorized practice of law as part of its portfolio probing financial crimes, about the Web site's existence.
We'll keep you posted about where this mystery leads.Make a comment