Another top Obama administration lawyer is making a move to the private sector.
Alejandro Mayorkas, the No. 2 official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, announced Wednesday that he will join Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr near the end of this month. Mayorkas, 56, was previously a partner at O’Melveny & Myers, which he joined in 2001 after a three-year tenure as U.S. attorney for the Central District of California.
Before being appointed deputy director of DHS in December 2013, Mayorkas was director of the agency’s United States Citizenship and Immigration Services division.
Mayorkas is the highest ranking Cuban-American official in the Obama administration. Born in Havana, Mayorkas came to the United States with his family shortly after Fidel Castro took power. When he was appointed U.S. attorney in Los Angeles in 1998 at age 38, he was then the youngest person to become a U.S. attorney. In 2008, The National Law Journal named him one of the 50 most influential minority lawyers in the United States.
Robert Novick, Wilmer’s co-managing partner, called Mayorkas a “triple, or perhaps, quadruple threat,” based on his wide-ranging experience as a Big Law litigator, prosecutor, government lawyer, and expert in security and immigration.
“He has an ability to manage crises and help clients with strategic responses,” Novick said. “That’s a key piece to what we do as a firm.” While Mayorkas will be based in Washington, Novick said he expects he will spend significant time in California, where his legal career began.
Wilmer already boasts a strong national-security practice that includes Stephen Preston, a former general counsel of the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency, former FBI Director Robert Mueller III, and former deputy U.S. attorney general Jamie Gorelick.
Howard Shapiro, who heads the firm’s litigation department, said Mayorkas will not initially be limited to a particular practice group because of his varied experience. “He’ll handle the high, hard ones in a lot of different areas,” he said.
Mayorkas will be subject to a two-year “cooling off” period that will limit his ability to interact with officials at the Department of Homeland Security. But Wilmer’s leaders don’t see that as an impediment. “From our perspective it will not limit his effectiveness,” Novick said.
Shapiro noted that, unlike many of the lawyers leaving the Obama administration, Mayorkas is not coming from the Department of Justice, which will allow him to handle matters there immediately.
With Mayorkas and Kenneth Salazar, the former Interior Department secretary who joined the firm in 2013, Wilmer will have two of the most prominent Latino lawyers in the nation, Novick pointed out. “That gives us an additional opportunity to appeal to a client base that may not have thought of us before,” he said.
Novick and Shapiro confirmed that Wilmer had to vie with other firms for the DHS official. “There was competition for sure,” said Novick. Shapiro added: “My understanding is that a lot of firms reached out to him, but he quickly narrowed his focus.”