Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax’s move to Morrison & Foerster, announced this week, puts him in the unusual, but not unprecedented, position of splitting time between a private legal practice and a high-profile public office.
In a statement Tuesday, Morrison & Foerster announced that Fairfax, 39, has joined the firm as a partner in its litigation, trials, investigations and white-collar defense groups. The move comes after Fairfax won the Virginia lieutenant governor’s race in November, marking just the second time in the state’s history that an African-American candidate was elected to statewide office.
That election also came at a time when Fairfax, a former federal prosecutor, was serving as a partner at Venable. But he left that firm after assuming office in January, and Morrison & Foerster has now benefited from his availability.
“Justin is a rising star whose addition highlights the firm’s strategy of hiring experienced lawyers who understand government and the private sector,” said Brad Wine, co-chair of the firm’s litigation department. “His impressive background strengthens our national and regional commercial litigation, enforcement and investigations capabilities. Justin will help us continue to meet our clients’ needs as we further expand our presence in Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia.”
With his move to Morrison & Foerster, Fairfax follows a tradition in the state of Virginia of lieutenant governors maintaining outside employment. Virginia’s lieutenant governor earns a salary of a little more than $36,000, and the position is part time under state law.
As The Washington Post reported Tuesday in an article about Fairfax’s move to a new firm, his government predecessors include current Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat who continued working as a doctor while holding the lieutenant governor position, and Bill Bolling, a Republican who worked in insurance during his term.
In addition to following a well-worn path of Virginia lieutenant governors “moonlighting,” Fairfax also joins other politicians who have managed to keep their legal practices alive even while they hold a prominent public office.
One prime example is the current mayor of Miami, Xavier Suarez. As ALM reported in June, Suarez recently jumped to Greenspoon Marder from Carlton Fields, making his current firm the third recent stop he had made in private practice. Suarez, a registered Republican who was elected mayor in November 2017, had previously been of counsel at Carlton Fields, which he joined in September 2017 after leaving GrayRobinson.
Of course, many Big Law attorneys also end up abandoning their private practice after becoming an elected official. That path was followed recently by Jenny Durkan, a former federal prosecutor who in 2015 joined Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan to head a cybersecurity and data protection group. In 2017, however, Durkan ran, and won, a mayoral campaign in Seattle and is no longer at Quinn Emanuel.
Fairfax said in a statement that he considered Morrison & Foerster “the ideal destination to restart my private practice,” adding that he was drawn to the firm’s reputation for top-flight litigation work and “a national and global footprint in many of the industries where I plan to focus my practice.”
Fairfax also stressed that, despite his dual roles in public office and as a private lawyer, he believes his position at Morrison & Foerster will be free of potential conflicts.
“I have maintained and will continue to maintain, close contact with relevant ethics officials to ensure that my joining, and work with, the firm will not present any conflicts of interest with my role as Lt. governor or with the commonwealth of Virginia,” said Fairfax in a statement. “I’m excited to enter this next phase of my legal career and to continue the tremendous work I’ve had the privilege of doing as lieutenant governor.”