U.S. Senator, Jeff Sessions, Alabama. (Shutterstock)
With the Trump transition team’s selection of Sen. Jeff Sessions as the next attorney general, several Washington law firms—especially those with conservative leaning white-collar lawyers and lobbyists—could benefit from ties to the Alabama Republican.
“I think he’s well-respected by a lot of top lawyers in the city,” said George Terwilliger III, a McGuireWoods partner who served as deputy attorney general to President George H.W. Bush and worked on George W. Bush’s legal challenge for the presidency in 2000. “I think they will welcome someone with an entrepreneurial bent and who wants to free American businesses to create jobs rather than use criminal law as an overzealous enforcement tool.”
If Sessions is confirmed as attorney general, he may have influence over many of the other political appointee positions available in the Department of Justice, from his own front-office staff to the various divisions. At Main Justice, there can be more than 100 lawyer jobs available with a new administration, with about two dozen requiring Senate confirmation. (These do not include the 93 U.S. attorney positions.)
Historically, many of the Justice Department’s jobs get filled by lawyers who have worked at large private-practice law firms in Washington. However, Sessions’ network is slightly different than those that other attorneys general have had with blue-chip D.C. firms, which often pride themselves on having a bipartisan partnership.
During the Obama administration, for instance, a significant number of lawyers moved to the Justice Department from Covington & Burling, including Obama’s first attorney general, Eric Holder Jr., and Criminal Division chief Lanny Breuer; from Jenner & Block, where Donald Verrilli Jr., the solicitor general, and Thomas Perrelli, the associate attorney general, worked; and from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, where several Obama and Clinton-era lawyers, including two deputy attorneys general, Jamie Gorelick and David Ogden, had ties. Loretta Lynch, the current attorney general, was a Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovells) partner earlier in her career—as was U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.
Those firms appear to be supplanted by firms with more Republican Party ties, such as King & Spalding and Kirkland & Ellis.
Sessions’ nomination may also lean on a web of connections to the lobbying community, since he has spent the past 20 years in the U.S. Senate. Many lawyers in private practice built their rÉsumÉs first as staff members on Capitol Hill, and often those lawyers also lobby.
The following are the law firms who employ lawyers with experience working for Sessions in the past.
KIRKLAND & ELLIS
This firm, with Bush-era Solicitor General Paul Clement and former Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip as banner names in litigation, may have the closest Trump Justice Department tie from which to gain.
Partner Brian Benczkowski, a white-collar criminal defense litigator, was staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee while Sessions served as ranking Republican. He took over management of Trump’s Justice Department transition this week, following the departure of former U.S. attorney Kevin O’Connor, according to The Washington Post.
Earlier in his career, Benczkowski also worked as former Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s chief of staff, so, like many of his colleagues, he’s no stranger to the daily operation of Main Justice. (Mukasey, now a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, was attorney general from 2007 to 2009. Although he spoke at the Republican National Convention then criticized Trump later in the campaign, his son, Marc, a Greenberg Traurig partner, cheered Trump’s election and works closely with Rudy Giuliani, another Greenberg lawyer in Trump’s inner circle.)
BALCH & BINGHAM
Jeffrey Wood, a partner and lobbyist focused on environmental issues, worked in Sessions’ office before joining the firm and has advised Trump on energy policy, according to Politico. This year, he registered to lobby for Alabama Power Co. and its parent company Southern Co. regarding the management, development and regulation of nuclear power plants, as well as wildlife protection, air emission and climate-change policies, according to federal lobbying disclosures.
Balch is an Alabama-based law firm, so its knowledge of Sessions is more robust than just Wood’s connection. But make no mistake, the firm’s eight-person Washington office is focused on politics and lobbying. Instead of private conference rooms to entertain clients, as is the norm at Washington law offices, the firm keeps a large conference table in its lobby surrounded by TVs tuned to cable news stations. Its Washington office leader, William Stiers, is not a lawyer and instead focuses on government relations.
BRADLEY ARANT BOULT CUMMINGS
One partner at the firm, David Stewart, worked in Sessions’ office as a legislative correspondent before he attended law school. Stewart practices in the Alabama firm’s government-affairs group and is based in Birmingham. His lobbying clients this year total nine companies and industry groups. The most significant, by amount it paid him, was the Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association.
In Washington, the firm’s construction law group is most well-known. Nationally, it’s thought of as one of Alabama’s most elite firms.
KING & SPALDING
Years ago, the Atlanta-based firm once had Archibald Galloway II on its payroll to work for clients including Bank of America Corp., Google Inc., The Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., according to lobbying disclosures. Galloway was a senior defense policy adviser to Sessions. He now works with the lobby shop Potomac Advocates.
While Galloway appeared to work for King & Spalding only from 2007 to 2009, the firm still has several well-known conservative lawyers—including some who worked in George W. Bush’s Justice Department—in its partnership in Washington. Its significant white-collar practice and ties to conservative politics could make the firm fertile ground for other Justice Department appointees, alongside powerful firms in Washington like Jones Days and Kirkland & Ellis.
KILPATRICK TOWNSEND & STOCKTON
Kilpatrick Townsend, another Atlanta-based firm, once employed Galloway as a lobbyist at the same time as King & Spalding. The firm also had on staff Armand DeKeyser, who is a former Sessions chief of staff, before he returned to Alabama.
DeKeyser briefly ran the firm’s government-relations group about a decade ago.
The Trump transition team announced Friday the full slate of advisers who would work as the “landing team” for the Justice Department. Besides Benczkowski from Kirkland, Big Law lawyers held two more spots: Greg Katsas and James Burnham of Jones Day. Katsas, a partner, is a former assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division and has represented tobacco company R.J. Reynolds in litigation, according to the firm’s website. James Burnham, an associate, defended former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell in his federal corruption trial.
The firm has long been suspected to play an important role in the next administration, since Trump’s chief political lawyers during the campaign included Jones Day partner Donald McGahn II and others from the firm.
Originally published on The National Law Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.