Scott MacGriff with Afghan Deputy Minister of the Interior Mirza Mohammad Yarmand (seated to MacGriff’s right) chairing a conference on police policy for Afghans and international colleagues (courtesy photo)
Scott MacGriff, a longtime lawyer at the U.S. Department of Justice, recently rejoined Dickinson Wright as a member of the firm’s beefed-up government investigations and securities enforcement group in Washington, D.C.
MacGriff, who will also be part of Dickinson Wright’s government contracts practice, previously spent more than a decade at the firm before returning to private practice in late November. During his time away from Big Law, MacGriff spent eight years with the federal government, initially as part of the Justice Department’s National Courts Section, which litigates government contract disputes and prosecutes fraud cases.
But during his time in public service, MacGriff also served as a Justice Department attaché in Afghanistan, a role that lasted three years, from 2012 to 2015. MacGriff spent about 18 months as a legal attaché in the war-torn country’s capital of Kabul—he acted as a liaison between the Justice Department and U.S. embassy in the city—after first serving as a senior legal adviser and deputy attaché.
Discussing his return to firm, MacGriff told The American Lawyer on Wednesday that his transition out of government and into private practice happened at a rapid pace. A couple of months before he returned to Dickinson Wright on Nov. 1, MacGriff said, the firm approached him with word that it was aiming to build out its government investigation and securities enforcement group, which had hired partners Jacob Frenkel and Seth Waxman in May.
For MacGriff, who said he was looking for a new challenge after his stint in Afghanistan, it seemed like the right time to rejoin his former colleagues at Dickinson Wright. He remembered the firm as having a collegial, “mutually supportive atmosphere” full of top-notch lawyers.
“I wasn’t necessarily planning to leave the Department of Justice,” MacGriff said Wednesday. “It was all sort of a perfect opportunity.”
MacGriff said he first expressed interest in an overseas posting in late 2010 or early 2011, at a time when the U.S. attorney general’s office was looking for people to join the department’s missions in both Afghanistan and Iraq. (The American Lawyer has previously reported on the work done by Justice Department lawyers in Iraq.)
In November 2011, MacGriff was asked if he’d want to join a Justice Department team in Afghanistan. Two months later, he was on the ground in the Central Asian nation. He started as a senior legal adviser, and then was later elevated to a deputy attaché position in 2013, taking over later that year as lead attaché.
The Justice Department’s efforts in Afghanistan had several focuses, including counterterrorism, counternarcotics and police work, said MacGriff. He and others in the office served as liaisons with other U.S. and foreign law enforcement agencies and militaries working in Afghanistan, and would frequently travel to various provinces in the country to help provide training to Afghan officials.
“In the capacity building role … we would work with judges, prosecutors and investigators to help them do a better job [and] develop their skills with respect to law enforcement under the laws of Afghanistan,” MacGriff said. “Because of that we became experts in Afghan law.”
Beyond the expertise he gained in Afghan law, whose rules are a blend of Islamic, statutory and local customs, MacGriff said he believes his time in government, including his work in Afghanistan, allowed him to bring something unique to Dickinson Wright upon recently rejoining the firm. He noted that the Detroit-based Am Law 200 firm has grown significantly during the time he spent in government—Dickinson Wright has expanded with mergers and other initiatives—and that its government investigations and securities enforcement practice has an increasingly global set of clients.
“The experience I gained overseas … helps build credibility with our international clients—the ability to work in a multicultural environment, and then bringing some expertise in investigations,” MacGriff said. “I’m really looking forward to adding value.”