X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
As the administration of President-elect George W. Bush gears up, Washington law firms will be printing a flurry of announcements touting the appointments of their partners to high-level government posts. And over the next few months, Washington, D.C., area attorneys will relish the reflected glory of their colleagues’ accomplishments. The revolving door between D.C. law practices and the federal government is a fact of life at area firms. For many lawyers, it’s part of the appeal of practicing in the nation’s capital. But contrary to conventional wisdom, firms that serve as Uncle Sam’s hiring ground can face a significant downside: The loss of a prominent partner causes internal upheaval, jeopardizes client relationships, and ultimately hurts a firm’s bottom line. And according to lawyers who have made the move from private practice into government, the prospect of a firm’s attorneys gaining special access to key regulators as a result is mostly mirage. “You would be foolish to think it is not a hardship when someone leaves for the government. These are people who are extraordinarily valuable to a firm,” says Michael Sohn, chairman of Washington, D.C.’s Arnold & Porter and a former general counsel to the Federal Trade Commission. One prominent Arnold & Porter partner who recently came full circle is William Baer, head of the firm’s antitrust group, who left in 1995 to be director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition, a post he held for five years. “It can be very, very hard to pick up the slack when someone like that leaves,” Sohn says. “You hope you have the depth of quality in the practice area to replace the Bill Baers of the world.” John Cassidy, name partner in Washington, D.C.’s now-defunct Miller, Cassidy, Larocca & Lewin, is also very familiar with the burden of compensating the loss of top talent. “When someone leaves, it means the rest of us have to stretch,” says Cassidy, who served as special assistant to the attorney general in the Johnson administration. “It means pulling someone else into a case, educating them, bringing them up to speed, and you can’t very well bill the client for that.” In its 35 years as an independent litigation boutique, the approximately 30-lawyer Miller, Cassidy sent a disproportionate number of attorneys into government service. Miller Cassidy alums in the Clinton administration have included current Solicitor General Seth Waxman and former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, now vice chair of Fannie Mae. “I once told Janet Reno, ‘My only regret is I had but one law firm to give to the government,’ ” jokes Cassidy. Cassidy rejects speculation, however, that his firm’s recent agreement to merge with Houston-based Baker Botts is due to the loss of Waxman and Gorelick, noting that both attorneys left the firm several years earlier. “The kind of people we associated ourselves with are interested in government service and we’ve always encouraged it,” he adds. “Government service is a noble pursuit. It doesn’t break up firms.” Still, as one former Miller Cassidy partner puts it: “Any firm would be better off with Seth Waxman and Jamie Gorelick than without them. Lawyers of that quality are sorely missed.” READY FOR CHANGE At some firms, attorneys are already bracing for the departure of prominent colleagues for positions in the Bush administration. In Washington’s highly competitive Supreme Court bar, Hogan & Hartson’s John Roberts Jr. and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Theodore Olson are considered candidates for the post of solicitor general. The loss of such a high-profile attorney would unquestionably hurt either practice. “The way these practices are built, there is a principal that attracts most of the business. At Hogan, John Roberts is the primary attraction. At Gibson Dunn, it’s Ted Olson,” says one Supreme Court litigator. “When you look behind them, there are really good people, but they don’t have the national reputation.” While there is some trepidation in the D.C. office of Gibson Dunn, lawyers note that several firm attorneys have argued multiple cases before the Supreme Court. “Certainly, the cachet of the current practice is Ted Olson,” says one litigator in the firm’s D.C. office. “The reality is, he has built a practice that is not dependent on him.” Hogan’s bench has already taken a hit. Thirty-four-year-old Christopher Bartolomucci, who was just made partner Jan. 1, jumped this month to the Bush team as associate White House counsel. “No one enjoys losing people to a new administration” says Hogan chairman J. Warren Gorrell Jr. “We have a strong appellate practice behind John, and I think we would continue to have a strong practice.” Another firm absorbing a loss in its local office is Philadelphia-based Dechert, where D.C. managing partner I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby left the firm earlier this month to serve as Vice President-elect Richard Cheney’s chief of staff. Libby, who served as a deputy under-secretary in the Department of Defense under Cheney, was a key member of the firm’s government affairs practice and managing partner of Dechert’s D.C. office. As of this month, the firm’s policy committee had not selected a replacement. Dechert partner Wallace Timmeny, a member of the firm’s policy committee, says the upheaval is a cost of practicing in the nation’s capital. “It’s always a downer to lose someone that’s a valuable part of the firm,” Timmeny says. “We are much more focused on the quality of opportunity for Scooter than we are on designating a new managing partner for Washington.” Clearly, the burden of losing a significant partner to a government post is heaviest on the region’s small and midsize firms. “If you’re a large firm and you send one person to the FDA, one person to Justice, and one person to the White House, it’s really not going to be that disruptive,” says Lisa Smith, a law firm consultant in the D.C. office of Hildebrandt International Inc. “Whereas, if you’re a smaller firm, you might not have the backup to transition clients smoothly.” While Washington, D.C., lawyers insist there are many advantages to having former partners in government posts, particularly in recruiting and public relations, most are quick to dismiss the idea that those connections can provide a payoff for clients. “It may give you cachet, but it doesn’t give you access,” says David Roll, former chairman of D.C.’s Steptoe & Johnson, the onetime home of Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky. “Clients may think, ‘Oh, this firm is prestigious. It has a bunch of partners running the government,’ ” Roll says. “ What clients may not know is that the minute the firm has a matter before that agency, that agency head has to disqualify him- or herself.” Indeed, government ethics rules require attorneys entering government to recuse themselves from all matters related to their former firm for at least one year. Thereafter, officials are barred only from matters they themselves once worked on. Arnold & Porter’s Baer says his role at the FTC often intersected with the interests of firm clients. In 1999, firm chairman Michael Sohn represented the Intel Corp. in an FTC investigation and called Baer directly to set up discussions. Baer had been out of the firm for more than a year. But Baer insists that lawyers from Arnold & Porter never received special treatment. “The only difference in my relationship with former colleagues is that when someone from Arnold & Porter didn’t like a decision, they were quicker to call and tell me I was an idiot,” he says. The real rewards come when lawyers return to private practice after a stint in politics. And those D.C. firms sending large numbers of lawyers into government service strive to foster a culture that will lure accomplished alumni to return. Still, Hogan & Hartson’s Gorrell says it is a mistake to count on a partner’s return. “When people leave the firm, I think you assume they’re gone,” he says. “You really never know what’s going to happen.” In fact, Gorrell says he thinks the so-called revolving door is a poor analogy, noting, “People who go into government are not necessarily going to return.” Whatever you call it, the movement of lawyers between the federal government and the legal community is an essential part of any Washington law practice’s business model. It is also an inevitable cost of conducting business in the nation’s capital. “A lot of what Washington law firms offer is an understanding of how Washington works,” says Stuart Levey, a former Miller Cassidy partner, now at Baker Botts. Levey returned to full-time practice three months ago after a year heading up the D.C. office of Sen. John Danforth’s investigation into Waco. He adds, “This may seem ungrateful of me, but I really think if a firm is going to be able to recruit high-quality people in Washington, they have to accommodate people leaving for government service.”

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.