In its 150-year history, Paul Weiss has never had a dedicated appellate practice group. But that is changing with the firm’s acquisition of leading U.S. Supreme Court litigator Kannon Shanmugam from Williams & Connolly.
Shanmugam, famously the only lawyer to join Williams & Connolly as a lateral partner in 32 years, will both lead a new appellate and Supreme Court practice at Paul Weiss and serve as a leader of the firm’s Washington, D.C., office.
“For me, it was a unique opportunity to build a Supreme Court and appellate practice at one of the world’s best litigation firms,” Shanmugam said.
On Sunday, as news of Shanmugam’s departure spread, Williams & Connolly said that Lisa Blatt will be joining the firm next month to lead its Supreme Court and appellate practice. Blatt, another leading member of the high court bar, has 37 high court arguments under her belt, with at least 33 wins. She joins from Arnold & Porter, where she headed the firm’s appellate and Supreme Court practice. (Read more on Blatt’s move here.)
Shanmugam has argued before the Supreme Court a total of 27 times, and in June 2018 he accomplished the rare feat of receiving certiorari grants in three pending cases on the same day. But he said this week that he is probably finished for the current Supreme Court term, which extends into the summer.
That gives him plenty of time to focus on his new leadership responsibilities in the Washington office, as well as building an appellate practice at Paul Weiss from the ground up. Shanmugam will share the load with current Washington managing partner Kenneth Gallo.
“The opportunity to play that leadership role and do what I love, which is arguing cases before the Supreme Court and the appellate courts, is what drew me to Paul Weiss,” he added.
Paul Weiss chairman Brad Karp said that the firm had long considered launching a Supreme Court and appellate practice group, but that it did not make sense unless they could find a “superstar” to lead the practice.
“We are in the talent business, and, in my view, there is no greater talent in our profession than Kannon,” Karp said. “He is in acute demand by the world’s most sophisticated clients facing their most important and challenging appellate issues.”
Shanmugam is not bringing anyone with him from Williams & Connolly to Paul Weiss. ”I’m going to turn up with my briefcase on Monday morning and get down to work,” he said.
But Shanmugam intends to grow the practice, just as he did at Williams & Connolly. There, prior to his 2008 arrival, the firm had an appellate practice but not a dedicated Supreme Court and appellate unit.
“Kannon is one of two or three leading Supreme Court advocates in the country and the youngest in an elite group,” Karp said. “In terms of having a very active presence in the Supreme Court, Kannon is going to put us squarely on the map.”
Shanmugam intends to work closely with attorneys already at the firm along with future hires. in building the practice.
“The plan will always be to work with associates who have an interest and appetite in doing appellate work,” he said. “The best thing about Paul Weiss is that they’re already a firm that attracts the best and brightest.”
Shanmugam had kind words for his previous firm: “I had a wonderful experience at Williams & Connolly, and I’m very grateful to the firm for the opportunities that it provided me.”
The move from Williams & Connolly, with slightly over 300 lawyers, to 950-attorney Paul Weiss is a striking one for Shanmugam. His old firm, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary, is distinguished by its resolute commitment to not expanding beyond its one office in Washington. (It did recently announce plans to relocate from downtown D.C. to a new development on the Southwest waterfront.) Paul Weiss, meanwhile, has eight offices in five countries spanning North America, Europe and Asia. And, while Williams & Connolly is strictly a litigation-only shop, Paul Weiss holds a burnished reputation for both litigation and corporate work.
By virtue of its larger size, Paul Weiss brings in substantially more revenue than Williams & Connolly: $1.3 billion in 2017, compared to $425 million. The firms’ revenues per lawyer are both in the ballpark of $1.3 million. But, thanks to the different leverage models in place at the two firms, Paul Weiss ranks considerably higher in terms of profits per equity partner: $4.6 million compared to $1.6 million.
“Paul Weiss has offered Kannon a unique opportunity to manage its DC office,” the firm said in a statement. “We thank him for his years with us and wish him all the best.”
Williams & Connolly’s chair Joe Petrosinelli recently replaced Dane Butswinkas, who was named Tesla Inc.’s new general counsel in December. The firm is also awaiting the return this spring of litigator Gerson Zweifach, who left after 30 years in 2012 to become the general counsel at 21st Century Fox.
Shanmugam clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court as well as for former Fourth Circuit judge J. Michael Luttig, who propelled a number of his clerks to clerkships with conservative justices. Shanmugam is also a longtime member of the Federalist Society and has served on the executive committee of the organization’s federalism and separation of powers practice group.
He came to Williams & Connolly after spending four years as assistant to the Solicitor General during the George W. Bush administration. He had previously worked as an associate at Kirkland & Ellis.