Daschle will join the firm as a senior policy adviser, and will become a member of DLA Piper's governing global board. His first official day is Dec. 1.
The former majority leader was President Barack Obama's first pick for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services before withdrawing under pressure in February after a flurry of stories over tax issues. He continues to advise the White House informally.
Daschle said DLA's global reach and the opportunity to join the firm's board was a key selling point. "International business and international work is one of my passions and I have long been very interested in pursuing the many opportunities that are presented to me internationally," he said.
Daschle's high-profile ties in the administration and the Senate have raised Alston & Bird's profile since he joined the firm in 2005.
DLA Piper Co-Chairman Francis Burch said Daschle is "going to be enormously helpful to us in helping our clients achieve their objectives. He's going to spend a lot of time with clients very quickly."
D.C. managing partner Frank "Rusty" Conner said DLA's pursuit of Daschle began in earnest in August. After former Sen. George Mitchell, who chaired the firm, left DLA Piper to become a special envoy to the Middle East for the Obama administration earlier this year, Conner said, "we increasingly felt we needed someone to play that role."
Dennis Garris, the partner-in-charge of Alston & Bird's Washington office, could not immediately be reached for comment. Daschle said he informed Alston & Bird of his discussions with DLA on Monday, and Alston officials asked for 24 hours to convince Daschle to stay.
Daschle was an obvious choice for the role DLA Piper wanted to fill. For one thing, he already had a relationship with several DLA Piper partners, including Conner. Conner was the head of Alston & Bird's Washington office when the firm hired Daschle in 2005, after he lost his Senate re-election bid. Conner and Daschle remained friendly after he and three other partners left for DLA in 2007.
Conner said the firm wants Daschle for his expertise on health care reform, but also on a host of other issues, including energy, trade and financial services.
"Clearly we're aware" of his access to the White House and members of Congress, Conner said, but "that is not the primary motivation. We think clients want to know what's going on in Washington. It's a great deal more about substance than it is about access."
For his part, Conner said Daschle was interested in the firm's global profile. DLA Piper has offices in 29 countries. Alston & Bird's Web site lists nine offices, all in the U.S.
Conner said the firm believes Daschle will bring at least some clients, although he said he couldn't say which ones, and he said DLA Piper does not expect Daschle, who isn't a lawyer, to register to lobby. Instead, he is likely to continue the strategic adviser role he established at Alston & Bird. Among the clients he is known to have advised at Alston & Bird is insurance company UnitedHealth Group Inc. His biography on the Alston & Bird Web site notes that he "spends a considerable amount of time providing strategic and policy advice to clients in renewable energy."
Conner said fewer than 10 partners knew the firm was courting Daschle, who was represented in the negotiations by Williams & Connolly partners Robert Barnett and Michael O'Connor. Barnett represented Daschle in negotiations over the sale of his book in 2002.
Daschle did have at least one breakfast at the Mandarin Oriental with Burch, Lee Miller, one of two chief executive officers, and former Defense Secretary and Sen. William Cohen. Cohen's firm, The Cohen Group, has a strategic partnership with DLA Piper. Conner said firm leaders also had dinner with Daschle at a Spanish restaurant downtown about the possibility of Daschle's joining the firm.
Other DLA Piper partners who knew of the firm's attempts to lure Daschle were Thomas Boyd and former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard, the co-chairs of DLA's regulatory and government affairs group. Boyd was among the partners to depart Alston & Bird for DLA Piper in 2007.
A week ago, Conner said DLA Piper's executive committee, which governs the firm's U.S. operations, was informed of the negotiations.
"You need to make sure you have enthusiastic support" for a hire such as Daschle, he said.
Conner wouldn't comment on how much DLA Piper will pay Daschle. Daschle also declined to comment. Daschle's disclosure forms, released as he went through the confirmation process earlier this year, showed that Alston & Bird paid him $2.1 million in wages and bonuses for 2007 and 2008. That amount is likely to be higher at DLA Piper. Alston & Bird reported profits per partner of $915,000 in this year's Am Law 100, and DLA Piper reported PPP of $1.295 million.
The former members of Congress who have made their homes at DLA Piper have buttressed the firm's reputation for Washington know-how, but have also brought scrutiny.
Former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, a Democrat, is a strategic adviser at DLA Piper, though he also has his own lobbying and consulting firm. Cohen's firm, The Cohen Group, has a contractual partnership with DLA Piper, and is headquartered at the firm's Washington offices.
Earlier this year, the firm's relationship with former House Majority Leader Dick Armey thrust the firm into the ongoing debate over the proposed health care overhaul before Congress, after news reports linked Armey's leading role in opposition to the president's proposal to DLA Piper and its clients, over the firm's protests.
Concerned about the backlash against the firm, Armey and DLA Piper severed their ties in August.
In September, the firm hired former Sen. Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican, as a partner in its Washington, D.C., and Tampa offices. Martinez is also helping the firm establish more of a presence in Latin America.