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A little more than two years after leaving his post as Army general counsel to join Philadelphia-based Dechert, William T. Coleman III says client conflicts and heightened professional opportunities have caused him to make a lateral move to Duane Morris, also based in Philadelphia. Coleman, whose practice focuses on employment litigation with a secondary emphasis in government relations, said he is looking forward to Duane Morris’ commitment to developing its employment litigation practice on a national level and leveraging his government relations work with the firm’s lobbying ancillary business. While he had nothing negative to say about Dechert, Coleman said serious client conflicts had developed that led him to consider switching firms. “Conflicts are part of the business,” Coleman said. “And coming directly from government creates major-league conflicts. It’s no one’s fault, and it’s not a question of Dechert not doing what it was supposed to do for me. “One of the things I liked about Duane Morris is that it has a labor [and employment] practice with an infrastructure that is national in scope. Just as an example, I have clients from my time at Pepper Hamilton and Dechert who have major operations in Chicago — where Duane Morris has a big labor and litigation practice. Now I can sell that to clients, and I never have been able to do that before.” Though based in Philadelphia, Coleman spends a good deal of time in Washington, D.C., because of his previous career in government. He said that while Dechert has a strong presence in Washington, it concentrates on financial services work rather than regulatory matters. In contrast, Duane Morris has a lobbyist ancillary business and several lawyers in Washington who handle government affairs work. Robert Heim, Dechert litigation department chairman, admitted that there were several matters that Coleman wanted to bring into the firm only to be thwarted by conflicts. With Coleman’s departure, Dechert is left with only one other black partner, litigator Vernon Francis, in its 300-attorney Philadelphia office. “Bill’s a good lawyer and a good person, so it’s distressing to lose him when we are trying to recruit and retain minority lawyers and become a diverse firm,” Heim said. “So that has to be a concern.” Duane Morris Chairman Sheldon Bonovitz said the firm was connected to Coleman by a legal recruiter a few months ago. He said the firm’s 40-attorney labor and employment practice would provide Coleman with a strong platform to expand his practice. “He has the talent and relationships that we feel he can leverage in our practice,” Bonovitz said. Coleman, a former Yale Law School roommate with Bill Clinton, was asked to assume the Army position by his old friend in 1994. After spending five years tackling issues such as the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military and investigating several high-profile misconduct cases, Coleman said it was time to get back to private practice. As Army general counsel, Coleman supervised roughly 2,600 lawyers through three separate commands: the Office of the Judge Advocate General, the Army Materiel Command and the Army Corps of Engineers. His tenure was filled with a host of challenging human resource issues, such as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the investigation and prosecution of the Aberdeen sexual harassment cases, the reorganization and downsizing of the Army, the investigation of officer misconduct cases involving Gen. David Hale and Sgt. Maj. Gene McKinney, and the revamping of the Army’s affirmative action programs regarding both acquisition and personnel. He also played a key role in developing the Army’s acquisition reform policies, the disposition of Army properties through the Base Realignment and Closure Act procedures, and the chemical demilitarization program. His responsibilities included overseeing Y2K compliance and major environmental initiatives such as the Rocky Mountain Arsenal cleanup and the Corps of Engineers’ restoration of the Everglades. Coleman graduated in 1973 from Yale, where he befriended the future president, eventually sharing a beach house with Clinton and another student. A black man in what was the first Yale law class to be completely integrated by both gender and race, Coleman said he originally had little interaction with white students. He recalled that Clinton was one of the students who first bridged the gap. The two maintained their relationship as Coleman pursued his career in the law and Clinton returned to Arkansas to run for political office. Coleman’s first job out of law school was with Hill Jones & Farrington, a small civil rights firm in Savannah, Ga. After clerking for a federal judge in Maine for a year, Coleman joined Pepper Hamilton’s Philadelphia office in 1975. He moved to Detroit in 1984 to help get the firm’s office there off the ground. Pepper opened the Detroit office to service its clients in the auto industry. Coleman defended clients such as Chrysler, General Motors, Unisys and Rockwell International against age discrimination suits. Coleman is the son of William Coleman II, who became the first black partner at a large Philadelphia law firm when he was hired by Dilworth Paxson in the 1950s. The elder Coleman also served as secretary of transportation under President Ford.

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