Law Firm Statement About Death of Moscow Partner Short On Compassion

Lawyers and law firms are  sometimes accused of being impersonal — and it’s announcements like the one I read this morning that does little to change that line of thought.

Exhibit A is this statement posted on Baker Botts’ website announcing the death of one of its partners.

There are a few problems with this news release:

1)The section that describes John Sheedy as a person is buried at the end of the release. When someone dies, a description of them as people, not lawyers, should ALWAYS be placed at or close to the top.

2) There is no quote from a managing partner or the partner in charge of the Moscow office. Even a quote from a colleague would have been effective here. (Heck, the partner was either 53 or 54 so it has to be especially tragic.)

3) The first sentence after the lead-in that he died is: “He was experienced in energy and natural resources, mergers and acquisitions, private equity and project and acquisition finance law” instead of the fact that he was “well liked by clients and colleagues .”

4) There is no mention of Mr. Sheedy’s hometown or family.

Accomplishments are great but when someone dies, people want to read about the PERSON first — the life they led, the lives they impacted  — not a laundry list of practice areas, industries served and names of law schools.

(Note to attorneys: If you know your firm is going to use the firm biography for most of a news release when you pass, now may be a good time to update it.)

Law firms that care about their reputations must do a better job when writing these kinds of news releases if they truly want to honor  those lost — and if they want to be seen as the kind of law firm that puts humanity before productivity and profits.

To be fair, I don’t think the distant tone and choice of content in this law firm statement was intentional. It was more likely the result of inexperience with writing a proper obituary.

But the Baker Botts statement copied below illustrates why law firm leaders need to pay closer attention to the tone of all their external communications. That’s simply because the world is watching and it’s a permanent online reflection of the firm’s culture.

What do you think?



1957 – 2011

Partner, Moscow

January 26, 2011

MOSCOW, RUSSIAN FEDERATION — Baker Botts partner John Sheedy died on January 25, 2011. He was experienced in energy and natural resources, mergers and acquisitions, private equity and project and acquisition finance law.

John was a graduate of Georgetown University and the University of Michigan Law School. He joined the Moscow office of Baker Botts in the spring of 2010 and was a member of the Global Projects team. John lived in Moscow for the better part of his career.

John built an extensive legal practice in oil and gas, natural resources, mergers and acquisitions and private equity transactions. He had more than 20 years of experience representing both Russian and foreign clients in transactions involving Russia. His legal practice focused on cross-border corporate, M&A and finance matters in a diverse range of industries, including energy, consumer and food products, manufacturing and the financial sector.

John was a talented lawyer highly regarded and well-liked by clients and colleagues. He was kind, considerate, with an excellent sense of humor and a true appreciation for the arts and literature. Our thoughts and prayers are with John’s family and friends. He will be sorely missed.

Arrangements are pending.