(l-r) Richard Wiley, Andrew McBride, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Peter Shields, and Bert Rein, pose for a photo before Justice O'Connor is to give a talk on her new book, Out of Order, at Wiley Rein's D.C. office. April 3, 2013. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL.
(l-r) Richard Wiley, Andrew McBride, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Peter Shields, and Bert Rein, pose for a photo before Justice O’Connor is to give a talk on her new book, Out of Order, at Wiley Rein’s D.C. office. April 3, 2013. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL. ()

Top telecommunications litigator Andrew McBride’s departure from Wiley Rein for Perkins Coie this week wasn’t the standard lateral move within Big Law. Instead, it came after a period of solitary soul-searching following a medical emergency this spring.

In February, McBride’s right leg, where he has implanted metal supports from a previous sports injury, developed an infection. Doctors were forced to amputate his right foot and he now wears a prosthetic. McBride, 56, a litigator for Verizon Wireless Inc. and a former member of Wiley Rein’s management committee, was on leave from the firm until April.

“It gave me about 6 weeks on my back to think about how my career was going,” he said. “I thought I have 12 or 15 years left. What would I like to do with them?”

McBride’s answer: Make his trial work broader than just representation of telecommunications companies, get into corporate defense work for multidistrict litigation class actions (he has previously handled less complex class action defense work) and renew his network on the West Coast, where he went to law school at Stanford University.

“What I’m looking for is a chance to move to being a more general complex commercial litigator,” said the former clerk to retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. “I have a great deal of contacts from clerking on the Supreme Court that I wasn’t able to exploit at Wiley. There were a couple areas I felt I could add value to clients, but I didn’t have the subject matter expertise.”

Perkins Coie, founded in Seattle, has large offices in Washington, D.C.; Silicon Valley; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Phoenix; and Chicago. About 10 percent of its lawyers, or about 130 total, are located in the nation’s capital. While McBride is a Republican and his former firm has done work for conservative causes, Perkins Coie is best known in Washington, D.C., as political counsel for the Democratic Party and its work on Hillary Clinton’s president campaign.

Trailblazing Litigation

McBride joined Wiley Rein almost 16 years ago after clerkships and eight years at the U.S. Department of Justice. Besides O’Connor, he clerked for the late Robert Bork when he was on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and at the time Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court. As a federal prosecutor, McBride worked in the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia and spent time at Main Justice.

In 2000, McBride left public service to become a partner at appellate boutique Cooper, Carvin & Rosenthal, which broke up the following year. Instead of choosing a name partner to follow out the door, McBride said he made his own move to Wiley Rein. McBride served on the firm’s management committee for about 10 years, until 2014, a year that saw Wiley Rein usher in a shakeup of its partnership, with lawyer and staff layoffs, and governance structure. Founding partners Richard Wiley and Bert Rein stepped down from the firm’s leadership board in late 2015.

McBride had been chairman of Wiley Rein’s communications litigation group and co-chair of its appellate practice, which has seen its steady parade of partner departures the past few years, as Helgi Walker joined Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in 2013 and William Consovoy and Thomas McCarthy formed their own boutique the following year.

As for significant cases, McBride and Wiley Rein’s current telecom practice chair Kathleen Kirby represented the National Football League’s Washington Redskins and team owner Daniel Snyder in the defense of its controversial team name, which was challenged as being too derogatory for radio when two broadcast licenses owned by Snyder came up for renewal.

McBride defended the cell phone industry on First Amendment grounds when the city of San Francisco attempted to require companies to disclose the alleged health risks of radio frequencies emitted from mobile phones. McBride has also litigated cases involving the enforcement of arbitration clauses, which made mainstream media headlines last year, and was among sibling publication The National Law Journal’s 50 “Trailblazers and Pioneers” of litigation in 2014.

Looking Elsewhere

In late spring, McBride told his colleagues at Wiley Rein that he would interview at other firms and for potential in-house roles.

“They were great,” he said of his former firm. “Honestly, I think they would have preferred I would have gone in-house, but they’ve been very gracious. One of the headhunters told me, ‘Very few people leave Perkins Coie,’ which I think is a very good sign.”

McBride said his departure from Wiley Rein had nothing to do with the recent loss of part of a telecom regulatory group led by partner R. Michael Senkowski, formerly the head of the group at the firm, for DLA Piper. Nor did it have any connection to Wiley Rein partner Robert McDowell, a former commissioner with the Federal Communications Commission, who left two weeks ago to join Cooley in Washington, D.C.

Wiley Rein’s only office is in Washington, D.C. The firm, which now has about 230 lawyers and consultants, including 109 partners, has historically been known for its prominence in telecom and regulatory law. Richard Wiley, its namesake and a founding partner of the firm, has been called the father of high-definition television.

McBride said he did not know whether his clients, which have included New Jersey-based Verizon Wireless, a longtime client of Wiley Rein, will follow him to Perkins Coie.

“All the clients get a standard notice. They can check McBride. They can check Wiley, or they can check someone else,” McBride said. “Wiley has talked to them, and I’ve talked to them,” he added about Verizon Wireless. “It’s nice to have a book come with you, but I’m really looking to expand client-wise and subject matter-wise.”

Perkins Coie won’t provide an unfamiliar trial practice for McBride. The firm advised T-Mobile USA on two cases while McBride worked with those lawyers representing Verizon Wireless on the same side.