Stephen S. Aichele, who served as Gov. Tom Corbett’s chief of staff until stepping down in July, is returning to Philadelphia-based Saul Ewing, where he was previously chairman.
Aichele is rejoining the firm as a partner in its real estate practice, effective today.
Aichele’s last day with the Corbett administration, in which he had been serving as senior adviser, was Oct. 18.
Saul Ewing managing partner David S. Antzis said the firm expressed interest in bringing Aichele back into the fold immediately upon the announcement of his stepping down as chief of staff, but that his agreement to return was only finalized a few days ago.
“He had a number of opportunities and ultimately had to decide if he was going to come back,” Antzis said.
Aichele told The Legal on Thursday that, until the firm reached out to him, he had never assumed or even considered that Saul Ewing would want him to return if he ever left government.
Once it became clear that he would be welcomed there, however, Aichele, 65, said he needed to first decide whether he wanted to continue working and, if so, whether he still wanted to go back to practicing law.
Aichele said that while he enjoyed his time in government, “in the end, I think of myself as a lawyer.”
Once he reached that conclusion, Aichele said, the decision to rejoin Saul Ewing became clear.
“I had some really good inquiries from law firms and even a couple of offers, but if I’m going to be a lawyer, how could I be anywhere else but Saul Ewing?” Aichele said, adding, “If you asked me who my 20 closest friends are, 10 are from Saul Ewing. How am I going to go out and compete against those people?”
Aichele added that he “was always proud of Saul Ewing.”
“I thought it was a firm that had a reputation that I liked,” he said.
Corbett originally tapped Aichele to serve as the state’s general counsel in January 2011, when he was still Saul Ewing’s chairman.
Up until that point, Aichele had spent his entire 35-year career at Saul Ewing and had served in various leadership roles, including as managing partner.
He took over as the firm’s chairman in 2006, a role in which he served as the firm’s “public ambassador” through participation in community affairs and in the business, civic and political organizations in which the firm participates.
In 2010, Aichele had been asked by the firm to head its project and resource development department.
Aichele said Thursday that he accepted Corbett’s offer not because he was looking for a change but because he felt he was being called into service.
“I didn’t leave there because I wanted to leave, I left because the governor asked me to do something I thought was important,” Aichele said.
Aichele served as Pennsylvania’s general counsel until May 2012, when Corbett elevated him to chief of staff.
This past July, Corbett announced that Aichele would be leaving his post and that Republican strategist and the head of Harrisburg-based lobbying firm LG Strategies, Leslie Gromis-Baker, would be taking over the position.
Aichele said he spent the next few months wrapping up his work with the Corbett administration before accepting the invitation from Saul Ewing.
Recruiter Frank D’Amore told The Legal at the time of Aichele’s resignation as chief of staff that attorneys who leave their firms to go into government don’t always return.
“There’s no definitive rule; it depends on the circumstances,” D’Amore said.
David Girard-diCarlo, for example, was chairman of Philadelphia-based Blank Rome in 2008 when he decided to accept an offer to become U.S. ambassador to Austria.
But following his resignation from that position at the end of the Bush administration, Girard-diCarlo joined Philadelphia-based Cozen O’Connor as a partner and member of its advisory committee. He has since retired from Cozen O’Connor.
Legal consultants have said it can be difficult for an attorney who held a leadership position at a firm to go back to the same firm after some time away.
But Antzis said the firm hadn’t wanted to lose Aichele in the first place, so there was never any doubt that it would offer Aichele an opportunity to rejoin if he ever went back to private practice.
“We view it as: Now he’s back from his deployment,” Antzis said. “We always wanted him here and we always wanted him to come back.”
When asked why he agreed to return to the firm as a partner, rather than an of counsel role that wouldn’t require capital contributions, Aichele said he felt it was important as a show of solidarity with the other attorneys at the firm.
“I think if you’re going to be a member of the team, be a member of the team,” Aichele said.
One thing Aichele said he will not do, however, is resume a management role at the firm.
“I don’t want to sit in executive committee meetings worried about comp,” he said. “Been there, done that.”
However, to the extent that he can serve as a role model for younger attorneys at the firm, Aichele said he’d be happy to do that.
Aichele recalled that, when he was managing partner, he encouraged one partner to remain at the firm after he hit retirement age simply because he had such a positive attitude toward being a lawyer that it was beneficial for the younger attorneys to witness it.
“He was good just to have around the law firm to show younger lawyers that there was a future,” Aichele said.
But Antzis said he anticipates Aichele will take an active role counseling clients not just in Philadelphia, but in Harrisburg and Pittsburgh as well.