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Bush Lawyers Seek the Next Soft LandingWhile some Bush lawyers nab law firm jobs, others eye options
A cavalcade of stars has exited the Bush administration in recent months, such as the Justice Department's Rachel Brand, who jumped to Wilmer, and Peter Keisler, who went to Sidley. Firms around town are also preparing to open their wallets to get remaining lawyers like Solicitor General Paul Clement, who previously headed King & Spalding's appellate practice. Legal recruiters estimate that top picks like Clement could fetch as much as $2 million or even $3 million.
Legal Times2008-04-10 12:00:00 AM
It's Wednesday afternoon, and Paul McNulty is searching for his ride outside Dulles International Airport. The former deputy attorney general and current Baker & McKenzie partner is just back from an overnighter in Houston, where he spoke to a group of 25 general counsel.
His topic? How to handle federal investigations, of course. After all, McNulty did write the memo that governs federal prosecutions of corporations. While GCs may not like the specter raised by the McNulty Memorandum, if they have to comply, who better to consult than its author?
McNulty has been on the road constantly since September, when he joined Baker after resigning from the Justice Department. The trip to Houston was an attempt to build relationships with potential Baker clients.
McNulty is part of a cavalcade of stars who have exited the Bush administration in recent months. A couple of the most recent moves are the Justice Department's Rachel Brand, who jumped to Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, and Peter Keisler, who went to Sidley Austin. Firms like Wilmer and Sidley can pay government recruits anywhere from the low-end of the partner compensation scale all the way to comfortably within seven figures.
And firms around town are also preparing to open their wallets to get remaining lawyers like Solicitor General Paul Clement, who previously headed King & Spalding's appellate practice, and Thomas Barnett, assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Antitrust Division and a former Covington & Burling partner. Legal recruiters estimate that top picks like Clement and Barnett could fetch as much as $2 million or even $3 million.
In the last several months, more than a dozen executive branch lawyers have jumped to private firms, or to in-house lawyer jobs (such as former Jones Day partner Deborah Majoras, who moved from chairman of the Federal Trade Commission to general counsel at Procter & Gamble).
Despite the allure of insider knowledge, this is still a guessing game for firms, since government lawyers don't come with clients. William Perlstein, co-managing partner of Wilmer, says, "To some degree, you're making an educated, intuitive guess."
'ONE OF THE BEST'
One such guess was Brand, who left her post as assistant attorney general for Justice's Office of Legal Policy in July. She surfaced at Wilmer in mid-March, where she says she is focusing primarily on immigration, counterterrorism and drug enforcement issues. "Rachel is acknowledged to be one of the best lawyers in government," Perlstein says.
Because she has a 7-month-old baby, Brand joined as counsel and bills at 75 percent of a full-time practice. (The baby is the reason Brand took several months off.) She says she chose Wilmer in part because the firm has "a lot of people who have successfully made that transition from government to private practice."
In fact, Brand joins another former Bush administration lawyer, Reginald Brown, who returned to the firm in 2005 after a stint as special assistant to the president and associate White House counsel.
A host of former Wilmer lawyers is, for now at least, still sticking with the administration: Robert Hoyt, general counsel of the Treasury Department; Robert Kimmitt, deputy secretary at Treasury; C. Boyden Gray, special envoy to the European Union; and John Bellinger III, legal adviser to the secretary of state.
Karan Bhatia, who left Wilmer to join the administration in 2001, recently resigned as deputy U.S. trade representative. Though Wilmer was very interested in getting him back, Bhatia instead decided to go in-house at General Electric.
Sidley Austin has done well with the Bush diaspora. Sidley Austin's Washington office reclaimed Peter Keisler from the Justice Department last month. (His start date has been pushed back, however, because of a broken foot.) Keisler, who left Justice in November, served as acting attorney general after the September resignation of Alberto Gonzales. The firm also scored Richard Klingler in January. Klingler, who left the firm in 2005 to serve in the Office of the Counsel to the President, was most recently general counsel for the National Security Council. Roger Martella Jr., general counsel for the Environmental Protection Agency, will also return to Sidley, tentatively some time after July 4.
There are plenty of ex-Sidley lawyers still in the administration -- though it's not clear yet if they'll come back to their old firm. Washington managing partner Carter Phillips says he hopes they will return, but explains that Sidley can't recruit government employees unless they recuse themselves from all cases involving Sidley clients. At this point, he says, none of the former Sidley lawyers have done that. Sidley alums C. Frederick Beckner III and Jonathan Cohn are deputy assistant attorneys general at Justice. Former Sidley litigator Joseph Palmore is deputy general counsel at the Federal Communications Commission. Former partner James Stansel is acting general counsel for Health and Human Services. And Daniel Price, who chaired Sidley's international trade practice, now serves as an assistant and adviser to the president.
Another Sidley alum, Daniel Meron, left his position as general counsel of the Department of Health and Human Services in 2007, but has yet to make his next move. "I think he's contemplating his navel at the moment," jokes Phillips.
Phillips, who spent three years in government as assistant to the U.S. solicitor general, says clients like to see former "high-level government officials" on staff.
A former government lawyer who has no trouble lining up clients is Latham & Watkins partner Philip Perry. He rejoined Latham for the third time in February from the Department of Homeland Security, where he was general counsel. Perry, who is Vice President Dick Cheney's son-in-law, says building business gets easier each time: "You become known because of your service in government. You also have former clients who return, and clients that you gain through cross-selling with other partners from your firm."
Not every lawyer fresh from the executive branch is so comfortable with client development. Former Food and Drug Administration chief counsel Sheldon Bradshaw joined Hunton & Williams in October after seven years in government. "It's been a bit of a transition in part because I'm a bit of a law geek," he says. He enjoys helping clients with "the thorny legal issue," but is still getting used to having to "drum up" business. Still, Bradshaw says he's helped bring in more than a dozen new matters for the firm's FDA group, which he co-chairs.
As more lawyers filter out of the Bush administration, firms will continue to train their sights on the big names. That's something J. Sedwick Sollers, King & Spalding's D.C. managing partner, knows well. He says his firm would love to have Clement back, but adds, "Obviously, it's premature to speculate about that, and Paul will have lots of options."