The former chief of the criminal division at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York is set to join Debevoise & Plimpton, where she will join several former colleagues from the top ranks of U.S. law enforcement in the firm’s white-collar defense and investigations practice.
Lisa Zornberg, who was revealed in January to be stepping aside from her prosecutor job with Cooley’s Laura Grossfield Birger taking on the criminal-chief role, told ALM she would be going to work as a partner at Debevoise starting May 1.
“When I decided to leave public service, there was a very short list of firms I considered,” she said. “Debevoise was at the top, and the basic reason is that its white collar and regulatory defense group is second to none.”
Zornberg left Lankler Siffert & Wohl in late 2016 to become the division chief when Daniel Stein stepped aside to join Mayer Brown. In her roughly two years in that role, she worked under three different U.S. Attorneys—first Preet Bharara, then Joon Kim, and finally Geoffrey Berman—and oversaw several high-profile cases. She estimates she spent over half her time on white-collar matters, broadly defined.
Many of those cases involved insider information. Several people who schemed to leak market-moving intel from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to a group of Deerfield Management Co. traders were charged and convicted on her watch. In another case, six accountants or regulators at KPMG and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board were charged with using the PCAOB’s secret inspection plans to secretly focus on certain audits; all but one of those defendants have been convicted or pleaded guilty.
Billy Walters, the famed sports better said by prosecutors to have made more than $43 million on insider trading, was convicted at trial in 2017. His conviction was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit late last year. Walters mounted a vigorous defense to the charges, based in part on revelations that an FBI agent had leaked information to news outlets to bolster the case.
From public corruption probes to terrorist manhunts, gang murders to Chinese hacks, Zornberg saw a lot in her most recent stint at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, but could comment on very little. With investigations and appeals still ongoing, she said it would be inappropriate to discuss many of the cases that she oversaw—including the SDNY’s case against Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, who said he made illegal hush-money payments to women at the president’s request.
Before her time as criminal chief, Zornberg had risen through the ranks at SDNY, joining as a line prosecutor in 1998 and rising to supervisory roles in both the civil and criminal divisions before she left for private practice in 2012. She goes back decades with several of her future colleagues.
Zornberg and Andrew Ceresney, who co-chairs Debevoise’s litigation department, interviewed for assistant U.S. attorney jobs at the SDNY’s rickety headquarters on the same day, both “sweating bullets because the air conditioning had broken that day,” she recalls. When she got the job, she was sworn in by Mary Jo White, now a senior chair at Debevoise who was the U.S. Attorney at the time.
Zornberg said her breadth of experience would serve her well at Debevoise, whose clients face investigations that are “multifaceted and multidimensional.” She said her work on fast-moving investigations prepared her to confront situations that call for decisive action but said her new firm is also known for helping clients through the long game, including taking disputes to trial.
In a statement to ALM, Michael Blair, Debevoise’s presiding partner, said the firm was “honored” to have Zornberg join.
“She’s an extraordinary talent with a remarkable breadth of criminal and civil experience,” he said. “Her service as chief of the criminal division at the Southern District will enable her to offer clients unparalleled insight into how best to address complex crises having criminal, regulatory and civil dimensions.”