In his “Stories I’d like to see” column, journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill spotlights topics that, in his opinion, have received insufficient media attention. This article was originally published on Reuters.com.
1. Christie’s legal bills and lawyers’ conflicts:
When it was announced earlier this month that Governor Chris Christie had hired Randy Mastro, the New York litigation head of California-based Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, to represent the Christie administration in dealing with all of the investigations involving Bridgegate, some observers told reporters that signing on Mastro signaled that Christie and his team might be gearing up to take an aggressive posture that is inconsistent with the governor’s initial promise to cooperate fully in all investigations.
That’s a logical assumption: Mastro, a former protégé of tough-guy New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is a notoriously hard-nosed litigator.
But what’s also intriguing is that Gibson, Dunn is one of the country’s most expensive law firms. Which raises the question of how much the state is paying to bring in this non-New Jersey team to represent the New Jersey governor’s office? And what is Christie’s rationale for passing over the local talent in a state full of terrific lawyers and law firms?
Adding more to the mystery is that the press release announcing Mastro’s hiring didn’t explain exactly who Mastro’s client is. The press release simply says that “The Christie Administration” hired Gibson, Dunn.
I assume that means the governor’s office, or the executive branch of the state government. But that would mean Mastro’s client — and the entity paying bills that are likely to run quickly into six figures and beyond — is a government office, not an individual or individuals.
It makes sense for a lawyer to represent the governor’s office in handling requests for documents housed in the executive chamber. But what about demands for interviews and testimony from individuals in that office, including the governor? Wouldn’t those individuals, including Christie, require separate counsel to avoid conflicts between the interests of the state and their own interests?
For example, the state has an interest in getting all the facts out in order to fix weaknesses in operations and perhaps limit civil liability. Some individuals, on the other hand, could have an interest in avoiding disclosures that expose them to embarrassment or civil or even criminal liability.
If Christie and his team do get their own lawyers, who pays those bills? And if they all rely on Mastro and his firm, won’t that raise suspicions of a coordinated strategy or possibly a coordinated cover-up?
2. Target’s and Neiman’s loss is another industry’s gain:
Whenever a website or other commercial enterprise suffers a hacking attack that potentially compromises the personal data of its users, those users are routinely offered free credit monitoring services and insurance to cover the costs of restoring a stolen identity.
The recent attacks on the data systems at giant retailers Target and Neiman Marcus seem to have brought these kinds of overnight mass purchases of credit monitoring to a new level. Target and Neiman are reported to have offered a year of the services to a combined total of over 110 million customers.
According to this report, Target is offering its customers a year’s worth of Experian ProtectMyID. ProtectMyID retails for $15.95 a month, according to the Experian website.
So how much do these services cost when bought by the tens of millions? Or do the providers give mass buyers like Target and Neiman the service for free, or close to free, in hopes of converting the consumers who use it into paying customers at the end of their free year?
How did Experian seal the deal over competitors, such as LifeLock?
How many people will actually sign up for and use the service that the two retailers have promised to pay for? What will their total tab be — and how much of a percentage sales and profit boost did the work of two hackers give to the companies that won the business protecting their potential victims?
3. Davos economics:
The New York Times reported last week that there were 2,500 “officially registered” guests at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Thousands more swarmed the elegant venue for off-stage meetings, conferences and lavish parties held around the non-stop program of sober speeches and panel discussions involving the world’s political and business elite. (The Times reported that Google’s and Yahoo’s galas were among the hottest tickets.)
So it’s time for a good look at the economics of the annual Davos gathering.
The World Economic Forum — which is registered as a nonprofit Swiss foundation — has obviously become big business. Or at least the event has become big business, even if the foundation, itself, hasn’t capitalized on its status as the ultimate upscale rock concert.