In 2009, Donal Blaney, a United Kingdom-based attorney and conservative commentator, noticed a Twitter account under his name, with the handle @blaneysblarney.
Problem was, he wasn’t the one who created it. The Twitter user was impersonating Blaney and tweeting posts he considered defamatory. So Blaney filed a complaint with a British court, resulting in the first court order served via Twitter: the court sent a direct message (or “DM”) to the Twitter user, containing a link to the court order asking the account holder to stop impersonating Blaney or face further legal action.
Blaney, founding partner of U.K.-based Griffin Law, is now aiming to bring similar reputation management services to U.S. companies. The 15-lawyer boutique firm is opening its first U.S. office in Alexandria in the coming months, and seeks to continue developing its niche representing businesspeople, politicians and celebrities in brand management issues.
That includes halting damaging chatter about a company or executive — both on the Internet and in real life. The firm is representing Y3S, a British financial services company, and last week convinced a London judge to order a former Y3S employee to shut down a blog that included unflattering comments about the company’s executives.
Blaney, a conservative commentator and blogger for the Daily Mail, was a councillor for the London borough of Hammersmith & Fulham in the 1990s, and is co-founder and chief executive of Young Britons’ Foundation, a conservative group. His firm has worked closely with conservative party politicians and think tanks.
Griffin Law’s goal in Alexandria, Blaney said, is not to compete with the Magic Circle firms — the term given to the London-based full-service, international law firms in the District that include Freshfields, Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy.
“I’m not going to pretend I can go toe to toe with Clifford Chance pitching litigation that would need a team of 200 attorneys,” Blaney said. “That’s not the market we’re looking for. I’m looking for mid-tier, smaller-tier U.S. firms that don’t have a trans-Atlantic alliance already, and other professionals and businesses who need English law advice.”
Blaney sees opportunities in representing U.S. public relations, law and accounting firms that need legal expertise on how to open offices in the U.K., enforce a U.S. court’s judgement in the U.K. or manage their corporate reputation abroad, he said.
“A PR company might say to us, ‘We have a problem with what’s being said about a client online, but there’s nothing we can do in the U.S. because of the First Amendment. But some of that stuff is being published in Great Britain, would you be able to use English law to take them offline?’ ” Blaney said. “There are avenues open to people whose names are being besmirched by using English law. We’re using harassment and privacy laws in this jurisdiction to protect the reputations of corporations in the U.S.”
Griffin Law recently represented Bell Pottinger, a global public relations firm, in a dust-up with two Congolese protestors who accused the firm’s managing director of advising the dictatorship in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Blaney ended up getting the court to issue the first injunction served via text message to two of the lead protest organizers, ordering them to stop defaming the firm’s director. Because the protestors were difficult to track down, Blaney and the firm’s other attorneys improvised by finding the protestors’ cellphone numbers on protest leaflets, and asking the court to text them the injunction.
Blaney said he chose Alexandria to locate the firm’s U.S. office because of Virginia’s lower taxes, and because the area reminds him of the U.K. The firm’s new office on Cameron Street held a soft opening late last month.
“King Street and Georgetown are the two parts of D.C. that most remind me of home — very twee and genteel,” said Blaney, whose wife is American and served in the U.S. Army. “We’re looking to buy a home between the Beltway and Mount Vernon. “Her mom lives in Florida, it was only fair at some point we move to the U.S.”