“There’s no place like home.”
That’s how Supreme Court advocate Lisa Blatt describes her move from Arnold & Porter to Williams & Connolly, where she began her legal career 29 years ago.
Blatt has argued 37 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court—more than any other woman—and won 33 of them (two decisions are pending). Her move on Feb. 5 to head Williams & Connolly’s Supreme Court and appellate practice comes as current practice head Kannon Shanmugam decamps for Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, creating an opening for her to return to the Washington, D.C.-based litigation powerhouse.
Blatt joined Williams & Connolly in 1990 as an associate after clerking for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
The firm didn’t recruit from her law school (the University of Texas) but Blatt said she had her heart set on working there after hearing legendary litigator Brendan Sullivan Jr., now a senior partner, tell a joint House-Senate committee during the televised Oliver North hearings, “Well sir, I’m not a potted plant. I’m here as the lawyer. That’s my job.”
“Ever since then, I wanted to go to Williams & Connolly,” Blatt said in an interview.
She met her husband David Blatt when they were both associates at the firm. He’s now a partner there, focusing on general civil and commercial litigation, products liability litigation and professional liability litigation.
When they married in 1995, Dane Butswinkas, who was chairman of the firm until Tesla tapped him as general counsel last month, was the best man. (Butswinkas remains a partner at the firm, though he moved to Silicon Valley for his new job.)
“In many ways, my core philosophy of practicing law came from Williams & Connolly—take no prisoners, be fearless, the client means everything, winning is the only option,” Blatt said.
She left Williams & Connolly in 1993 to join the general counsel’s office at the Department of Energy. From there, she moved to the Justice Department’s Office of the Solicitor General, where she worked from 1996 to 2009 under five different Solicitors General from both parties.
For several years, Shanmugam occupied the office next to Blatt’s at the DOJ, and Blatt said she actively encouraged him to join Williams & Connolly when he left government in 2008.
With a single location in Washington D.C. and more than 300 lawyers, Williams & Connolly is famous for its tight-knit, home-grown culture—Shanmugam was the only lateral partner hired by the firm in the last 32 years (and the second lateral partner ever). He was tasked with launching Williams & Connolly’s appellate practice. But once he was ensconced, it meant there was no opening in the nascent group for Blatt when she left the SG’s office the following year.
Instead, she joined Arnold & Porter. “They took a chance on me coming out of the Solicitor General’s office,” Blatt said.“I have a very strong attachment to the firm. … I’m very sad to leave, and I’m very grateful to them.”
Arnold & Porter Chairman Richard Alexander in an emailed statement said, “Lisa has made important contributions to our firm and our practice and we wish her well in her new endeavor.”
Blatt said that if an opportunity had arisen at any other firm, she would have declined. But Williams & Connolly was different.
“The firm has been my family for the last 25 years. These are people I love,” Blatt said. “I never lost touch with anyone.” (Also, being married to a partner meant she’s continued to attend official firm events—not to mention vacationing and socializing with Williams & Connolly colleagues.)
Blatt said she did not anticipate that the move would affect the substance of her practice, though she said she does not yet know what client matters will follow her to her new firm or whether any associates will join her.
Last spring, Blatt received what Supreme Court watchers described as a “nearly priceless” compliment when Justice Stephen Breyer during oral arguments over the travel ban case referenced her amicus brief—by name. As in the “families in the Lisa Blatt brief.”
As my colleague Tony Mauro wrote, the most unusual reference “conveys the court’s comfort level with her work and signals that she is so well-known that her name alone can be a shorthand identifier.”
A self-described “liberal Democrat and feminist,” Blatt garnered headlines when she wrote an op-ed supporting the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, calling him “the most qualified conservative for the job.” (The piece appeared before Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations became public.)
In recent years, The National Law Journal has named Blatt a “visionary” and one of “the 100 most influential lawyers in America.”
She’s also a two-time winner of Litigator of the Week—for persuading the Illinois Supreme Court to vacate a $10 billion verdict against Philip Morris USA Inc. for deceptively advertising “light” cigarettes, and for a win before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in a licensing spat between two drug companies. In that case, Blatt and co-counsel secured a landmark ruling from the court that litigants can’t disqualify jurors on the basis of their sexual orientation.
“Williams & Connolly is where I started my career, and it will be where I end it,” Blatt said. “It feels like coming full circle.”
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