Joel McElvain of King & Spalding

King & Spalding has brought on Joel McElvain, a former senior U.S. Department of Justice official who resigned last year following the Trump administration’s decision not to defend a portion of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

McElvain spent more than 20 years at DOJ, most recently as assistant branch director with the federal programs branch. King & Spalding’s “strong global platform, collaborative culture, and entrepreneurial spirit” attracted him to the firm, he said in a Jan. 16 release announcing his addition as a partner in the Washington, D.C. office.

“Having the opportunity to handle cases that questioned the government’s regulatory authority makes me well positioned to represent companies in disputes before its agencies,” McElvain said.

McElvain isn’t the first former administration official to land at King & Spalding after a public split with the president or his policies. Sally Yates, the acting U.S. Attorney General fired by Trump, joined King & Spalding last year after refusing to defend Trump’s travel ban in 2017. Yates is now a partner in the firm’s special matters & government investigations team, which added several laterals last year.

McElvain will be part of the firm’s health care team, relying on decades of experience as a litigator defending the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in cases involving Medicare, Medicaid and the ACA.

The end of his government tenure made headlines, particularly because of its timing. One day after former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions informed Congress that his department would no longer defend the ACA against legal challenges brought by Republican-led states, McElvain submitted his letter of resignation. He and two other Justice Department officials had earlier withdrawn from Obamacare-related litigation in Texas following the policy shift.

Reached by phone on Thursday, McElvain said he began looking for a law firm home a couple of months ago and was consistently impressed by King & Spalding’s professionalism throughout his time at DOJ. He said the positive experiences of his DOJ and HHS colleagues who joined King & Spalding also informed his decision.

“King & Spalding has a tremendous reputation,” McElvain said, citing both “the quality of its legal work and its collegiality.”

Jim Boswell, head of King & Spalding’s health care team, said in a statement that McElvain was a “perfect fit” because of his experience as a litigator and his knowledge of regulators, various executive agencies and Justice Department practices.


King & Spalding’s headquarters is in Atlanta, but D.C. serves as its second-largest office, according to 2018 NLJ 500 data, and its D.C. footprint is continuing to grow. Overall, the firm ranked 23rd in the 2018 Am Law 200, up from its ranking of 27 in 2017 and 2016.


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