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HALE AND DORR, WILMER IN MERGER TALKS Wilmer Cutler Pickering and Boston’s Hale and Dorr are nearing a partnership vote on merging, according to a source close to the discussions. If approved, the merger would instantly create a 1,000-lawyer behemoth that would rank as one of the 10 largest firms in the country. The combined firm would have offices throughout Europe, as well as a New York presence of about 90 lawyers. In the District, Wilmer has 350 lawyers to Hale and Dorr’s 70. A vote on the merger is expected this week or next, the source says. Law firm consultants and D.C.-area lawyers expressed surprise at the advanced state of the discussions and the possibility of a merger between a Washington institution and an old-line Boston corporate firm. “The management doesn’t bring things like this to the partnership if they don’t think they will go through,” says law firm consultant Peter Zeughauser. Wilmer chairman William Perlstein cited the firm’s policy not to comment publicly on speculation about the firm. Hale and Dorr managing partner William Lee did not return calls for comment, though in an interview last week with The Boston Globe he acknowledged the firms were in discussions. Law firm consultants say the marriage makes sense on the surface. The two firms are about equal in size and have similar cultures. Profits per partner are close: In 2002, Wilmer Cutler posted an average $759,000 profits per equity partner, while Hale and Dorr’s PPP was $810,000. Hale and Dorr, however, has multiple partnership tiers while Wilmer Cutler has only equity partners, which might complicate efforts to integrate. In 2002, the firms grossed a combined $603 million, split roughly evenly. Zeughauser questions the strategy of beefing up in Washington and Boston instead of courting merger partners on the West Coast or in New York to create a national presence. “It’s a kind of Northeast or Mid-Atlantic states deal,” he says. But Zeughauser says the firms’ practices complement each other: Wilmer has strong litigation and regulatory practices, and one of the city’s biggest rainmakers, securities lawyer William McLucas. (McLucas declined comment.) Hale and Dorr has top intellectual property and corporate practices. David Wilkins, head of Harvard Law School’s Program on Lawyers and the Professional Services Industry, says the firms have similar old-line, prestigious cultures. “If they have to grow and merge to stay competitive, at least you have firms with similar values,” he says. “What this shows is the pressure that even quite well-established, excellent firms feel to get bigger and to have more coverage.” — Marie Beaudette ON TRIAL Courtroom 218 at D.C. Superior Court drew quite a crowd for a misdemeanor case last week. Supervisors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, defense lawyers, law clerks, and even a judge dropped by to watch the spectacle that is United States v. Sassower. The main draw is nonlawyer defendant Elena Sassower, a White Plains, N.Y., resident and coordinator of the Center for Judicial Accountability who is representing herself before a D.C. jury against one count of disrupting Congress. Capitol Police claim Sassower broke the law when she spoke out at the end of a Senate confirmation hearing in May 2003. Sassower, who faces a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine, says she merely made a “respectful request to testify.” The trial, which at press time had wrapped up its third day and was scheduled to continue on April 19, has not disappointed. During her opening statement, Sassower was nearly taken into custody by Superior Court Judge Brian Holeman after she ignored his order to finish up. A U.S. marshal remained in the room for the next two days. Assistant U.S. attorneys Jessie Liu and Aaron Mendelsohn called just four Capitol Police officers as witnesses and introduced a videotape of the hearing as evidence. On the video, a portion of which was played for the jury, Sassower can be heard — but not seen — yelling out just as Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) calls for adjournment. Sassower, who plans to testify in her own defense, has desperately tried to make the trial about the lack of public input in judicial nominations and the alleged corruption of a federal appellate judge, but Holeman has consistently blocked her efforts to do so. Though Sassower has been conducting most of her defense on her own, she does have legal assistance. D.C. lawyer Mark Goldstone, whom Sassower says she paid $5,000, has sat at her side throughout the trial — many times whispering advice into her ear. — Tom Schoenberg NO COMPLAINT The Virginia State Bar has rejected an ethics complaint filed last December against Elaine Jones, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Several conservative groups said Jones tried to induce the Senate Judiciary Committee to delay confirmation of nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, so they couldn’t vote on a University of Michigan affirmative action case that was before the court. The delay, the groups claimed, was an attempt by Jones to “influence and disrupt” a federal court. Jones’ attorney, David Kendall of Williams & Connolly, sees vindication in the bar’s action. “Ms. Jones is guilty of being a dynamic civil rights leader, but that’s hardly the basis for a bar complaint,” Kendall says. “Her 34-year record as a member of the Virginia Bar remains unblemished.” On April 13, the Alexandria, Va.-based Center for Individual Freedom, one of the groups that filed the Jones complaint, filed a similar complaint with the New York Bar against Olati Johnson, a former aide to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). The center claims Johnson, now an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, violated ethics rules by urging the senator, at Jones’ request, to hold off on a 6th Circuit nomination. Kennedy spokesman David Smith vigorously defends Johnson: “Senator Kennedy has every confidence that she is a lawyer of the highest ethical standards.” Johnson did not return a call for comment. — Jonathan Groner SECRETIVE The hearings of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks have filled the newspapers and airwaves for weeks. It’s clear, though, that another commission — the nine-member panel investigating intelligence failures regarding Iraq’s weapons program — will operate mostly out of the public eye. “Public hearings have not been ruled out,” says spokesman Larry McQuillan. “But the nature of this investigation is so sensitive that there’s not a great deal that can be discussed in a public forum.” The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, headed by former Sen. Charles Robb (D-Va.) and Senior D.C. Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman and set up by the president in February, has held one organizational meeting so far, on March 31. It took place in private and without public notice. Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press says that because of the classified subject matter, “some meetings will have to be closed, but they should be held to a minimum so that the public can have as much confidence as possible in the commission’s findings.” Steptoe & Johnson partner Stewart Baker, a former general counsel of the National Security Agency, has been named the commission’s general counsel. Baker declined comment. — Jonathan Groner SPEAKING UP The fact that former Justice Department Criminal Division chief Michael Chertoff now holds a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit has not stopped him from participating in the debate over how to handle suspected terrorists. After leaving the DOJ in 2003, Chertoff caused a stir by suggesting Bush administration policies for holding U.S. citizens as enemy combatants were unsustainable. In an April 13 speech in Washington to the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security, Chertoff laid out three alternatives: executive detention, military commissions, or modified criminal court proceedings. “There are pros and cons to each that we need to start thinking seriously about,” Chertoff said. He cautioned that while the federal courts might offer legitimacy, adapting their procedures for terrorism trials could cause “spillover” affecting ordinary criminal proceedings. — Vanessa Blum PATENT PRIORITIES The National Academy of Sciences will issue a report this week that is expected to recommend significant changes to the patent system, including the operations of the Patent and Trademark Office. Academy officials refused to discuss the report, “A Patent System for the 21st Century,” but it will likely address the backlog in patent applications and improving patent quality. Michael Kirk, executive director of the American Intellectual Property Law Association, says the report also may address improving procedures for reviewing a patent after it’s been issued and exempting researchers who want to investigate a newly patented product from infringement claims. Kirk says the association consulted with the National Academy of Sciences in advance of the report and continuously works on proposed revisions to patent law. The PTO declined comment on the report prior to its release. — Christine Hines ACCESSIBLE Last month, Howrey Simon Arnold & White took on Florida in a voting rights case and won. Now the firm is tackling another big state — California. Howrey Simon has filed a federal suit against California’s secretary of state seeking to force the state to provide disabled voters access to voting machines. Los Angeles partner John McDermott is leading the California effort on behalf of the American Association of People With Disabilities. In Florida, Howrey Simon represented the association in a case against Duval County and the secretary of state over a similar issue, says its vice president of government affairs, James Dickson. The county now is required to place an accessible voting device at every polling place. — Christine Hines TRADE SCHOOL American University Washington College of Law is building a new program to teach students how to negotiate and draft international trade agreements. “NAFTA, Free Trade Agreements and Regional Integration” will examine the structure of trade agreements, how lawyers can help clients enter into effective trade pacts, and how to take advantage of the opportunities the agreements create. AU touts the program as the first of its kind. “This is an issue where there is clearly a gap,” says Daniel Bradlow, international legal studies program director. The specialization will be part of the university’s L.L.M. in international legal studies, starting in the fall. — Bethany Broida

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