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When it comes time to fill an in-house legal post, more companies are headhunting in Washington. Not surprisingly, former government lawyers are especially in demand at businesses under investigation by prosecutors or regulators. But even corporations that don’t have to worry about a federal probe have found that D.C. veterans are useful for navigating the nation’s capital. Companies “recognize that the government is more and more involved in what companies are doing,” said David Leitch, a former deputy White House counsel who became Ford Motor Co.’s new general counsel in April. “So a working knowledge of Washington and government are all things that are becoming increasingly more valuable in corporate America,” Leitch said. Hard data on the number of recent moves from government agencies to corporate law departments are hard to come by. But legal recruiters June Eichbaum and Victoria Reese of Heidrick & Struggles International Inc. have tallied a list of almost two dozen former government lawyers who have moved into top corporate legal positions over the past five years. Times have changed Of course, a revolving door between agencies and companies isn’t particularly new. As far back as 1969, International Business Machines Corp.-then facing a federal antitrust action-hired a former Johnson administration attorney general, Nicholas deB. Katzenbach, as general counsel. Benjamin Heineman, who was an assistant secretary at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare during the Carter administration, took over General Electric Co.’s legal department in 1987. And in 1994, William Barr, attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, became general counsel at GTE Corp. But these men were more the exception than the rule. Times have changed, Barr said. These days, when headhunters ask him to suggest candidates for in-house jobs, they’re often looking for people with top-level government experience-and Barr is able to oblige. Currently general counsel at GTE’s successor, Verizon Communications Inc., he said, “Now most lawyers I know on the outside would come in-house for the right job.” The demand for D.C. attorneys has been partly driven by stepped-up government scrutiny of companies due to the recent wave of corporate fraud. By bringing former regulators on board, businesses are letting Washington know that they take the increased regulation seriously.

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