Robert McDowell. (Courtesy photo)
Robert McDowell, a former commissioner with the Federal Communications Commission who joined Wiley Rein in 2014, has left the firm to co-lead the global communications practice at Cooley. McDowell is the latest top telecommunications industry partner to depart from the Washington, D.C.-based regulatory shop in recent months.
McDowell, who is based in Washington, D.C., served as a Republican appointee to the FCC from 2006 through 2013. He was re-appointed to the commission by President Obama in 2009. McDowell’s move comes the same week that DLA Piper officially confirmed its addition of three telecom partners from Wiley Rein, as previously reported by sibling publication The National Law Journal.
“Cooley overlooks this incredible well-spring of new companies,” McDowell said Wednesday of his decision to decamp from Wiley Rein for the technology industry mainstay. “There are hundreds of minnows born each year who grow up to be whales. Cooley services most of them.”
McDowell, whose title at Cooley doesn’t limit him to telecom regulatory work, said he has developed a practice in capital finance and investments for young and growing communications, media and technology companies. McDowell declined to name any specific clients he had at Wiley Rein, since many in capital financing are confidential, and because he is not yet sure which ones will move with him to Cooley. McDowell has been one of the most outspoken voices against the federal government when it fought with companies over net neutrality rules in court. The FCC won in June at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Cooley said it serves as counsel in the nation’s capital for affiliates of CBS Corp. and Fox Broadcasting Co., and Wiley Rein also represents both news networks, as well as several other media companies like Verizon Communications Inc. Much of Cooley’s communications regulatory practice joined the firm in 2014 after it absorbed 54 lawyers from Dow Lohnes in Washington, D.C. (Some groups of Dow Lohnes lawyers joined other firms.)
McDowell’s practice at Wiley Rein from September 2014 until Monday “was a very fruitful and energetic time, and I’m bringing most of that over here,” he said. “I’ve gotten oral commitments, but still going through conflict checks. I’m pretty darn confident in a number of them.”
On Wednesday, DLA Piper confirmed its addition of five former telecom industry colleagues of McDowell’s at Wiley Rein. R. Michael Senkowski, who had led Wiley Rein’s telecom group under the supervision of chairman emeritus and former FCC chair Richard Wiley, officially joined DLA Piper along with partners Nancy Victory and Eric DeSilva. Tom Dombrowsky and Michael Lewis, two spectrum engineers, have joined the group at DLA Piper, which earlier this year added Wiley Rein’s former food and drug practice chair James Czaban as a partner in Washington, D.C.
“The addition of this group presents a strategic opportunity to expand our telecom practice and regulatory offerings in the nation’s capital,” said a statement by Mary Gately, DLA Piper’s office managing partner for Washington, D.C. “Their specialized skills, coupled with their telecommunications policy and technology backgrounds, will also allow them to expand their practice to serve new industries and emerging fields, including autonomous vehicles, unmanned aircraft and the Internet of Things.”
Senkowski did not return a request for comment about his move Wednesday. His group’s decision to leave Wiley Rein, however, coincides with a change in firm management that sets 70 as partners’ retirement age. Senkowski, who is married to Victory, is 70.
McDowell, 53, said his departure around the same time his former colleagues joined DLA Piper was “completely independent” and “coincidental.” It was unclear by the time of this story how many Wiley Rein telecom clients the two lateral groups will carry out the door with them.
On its website, Wiley Rein claims that it maintains the largest telecom practice in the country. The firm lists more than 50 lawyers, including firm managing partner Peter Shields and name partner Wiley, as members of the group, along with several consultants. McDowell and Wiley, the latter now in his 80s, were the primary FCC board alumni at the firm, though former commissioner Henry Rivera is a partner at Wiley Rein and Tyrone Brown remains affiliated in a part-time capacity.
Wiley Rein has been in a period of transition since 2014, when co-founders Wiley and Bert Rein ceded their leadership roles on the firm’s management board to others. The firm also laid off more than a dozen lawyers—a bankruptcy group landed at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough—and several longtime staffers, while purchasing a lobbying subsidiary called McBee Strategic. That lobbying business was renamed as Signal Group last month.
The chairs of Wiley Rein’s telecom group are now partners David Gross and Kathleen Kirby.