If retiring U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman wants to find work with a private law firm, as he recently suggested he might, there are many that will welcome him with open arms.
During a farewell tour of speaking engagements last week, the four-term Senator fielded the perfunctory question, “What’s next?” At one stop, Lieberman announced that he and his wife would sell their Washington, D.C., home and move back to Stamford to be closer to children and grandchildren.
The senator said his next career step will involve pursuing opportunities in the private sector, “perhaps with a law firm.” Without getting specific about his move in that direction, Lieberman said he hopes to remain involved in public policy.
While law firm recruiters were reluctant to speak on the record for fear of running afoul of existing clients’ political views, top lawyers and marketing executives at firms of all sizes were happy to discuss Lieberman’s options. For some, big international firms, like Willkie Farr & Gallagher, where former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo now works, were the first to come to mind. Considering a growing list of politicians who have made the move from public advocacy to private representation, including former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, all agree Lieberman could be a real client magnet if he finds the right fit with a firm.
“At my practice at Finn Dixon & Herling, we do a lot of deals and sophisticated business transactions,” said William Tong, a former Lieberman intern who is now a state representative. “Being able to attack different moving parts, and then being able to negotiate with various parties, those are important skills in the practice of law, particularly at a high level, and that’s something I think Sen. Lieberman is well-suited for.”
The last big political name to be a free agent in Connecticut legal circles was Kevin O’Connor, a former U.S. Attorney who went on to become the No. 3 man in President George W. Bush’s Justice Department. In 2009, O’Connor eventually signed on, coincidentally, with Rudy Giuliani’s firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, as head of the white-collar defense department. Earlier this year, O’Connor left to become a corporate compliance attorney with United Technologies Corp.
So what else would Lieberman bring to the table?
Star power, for one thing. Imagine a former vice-presidential candidate’s name gracing a firm’s stationery and web site.
And an identifiable brand. Lieberman, a former Democrat, for the past several years has been an independent in the Senate, with a reputation as someone who sticks to his guns rather than rolls with the partisan tide.
“It would be like getting Joe DiMaggio to be your high school baseball team’s hitting coach,” said Anthony R. Minchella, of Minchella & Associates in Middlebury. “Lieberman’s political career on the state and national level, his relationships at very high levels of government, and his power-broking skills, all equate to business generation, most likely in a government-relations type practice.”
Minchella continued: “And his years of experience, knowledge and wisdom would add considerable value to any firm looking to really train and mentor young associates.”
Lieberman graduated from Yale Law School in 1967 and worked for Wiggin and Dana for three years before he was elected to the Connecticut State Senate in 1970. Aside from a couple more years working as a private practice lawyer before becoming Connecticut’s Attorney General in 1983 — in five years as AG, he was known for his pro-consumer and environmental stands — the bulk of Lieberman’s career has been in public service.
Lieberman nearly became vice president as Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, and four years later mounted an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for president. His support of the Iraq war, which cost him politically among Democrats, led to his defeat for that party’s Senate nomination in 2006.
But Lieberman won his final term anyway, running as an independent in a three-way race. And during this final term in the Senate, Lieberman took on two roles that could prove especially attractive to law firms in the state.
First, he is chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which has jurisdiction over a broad landscape of government offices that are filled with opportunities for legal work. Lieberman’s committee oversees not only the Department of Homeland Security, but also the National Archives, the U.S. Census, the Federal Civil Service, U.S. nuclear export policy and the U.S. Postal Service.
Dwight Merriam, a Robinson & Cole partner who founded the firm’s land use group in 1978, said those credentials cut across “virtually all sectors of legal services.”
“Fortune 100 companies are going to want to be able to retain Sen. Lieberman to represent them on those many, many issues he has handled during his 42 years in state and federal government,” said Merriam, who advised Lieberman on environmental issues when Lieberman first ran for U.S. Senate.
Jeff Donofrio, who as managing partner of Ciulla & Donofrio in North Haven represents banks and corporations in civil litigation, says Lieberman’s position on the Homeland Security committee would make him attractive to any firm that represents defense contractors. “Especially given his knowledge of how government works and his abilities an advocate and negotiator,” Donofrio said. “I am sure he would be quite an effective rainmaker as well.”
Lieberman has also emerged as one of the Senate’s leading cybersecurity experts at a time when a growing number of law firms are developing practices geared toward helping corporations secure their digital data. Lieberman, along with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, sponsored the Cyber Security Act of 2012, which the Senate rejected last month.
The legislation, which was supported by the Obama administration, would have set voluntary cybersecurity standards for owners of critical infrastructure, such as gas pipelines, utilities and banks. The law also would have authorized companies and the government to share information about online threats.
While most supported the information-sharing provisions of the bill, many businesses expressed concerns that even voluntary standards might impose new liabilities on them. Having been involved with both sides of the policy debate on issues of national and cyber security would make Lieberman “very valuable” to a firm that services clients in those areas, said Gregory E. Young, who chairs the Public Policy and Governmental Relations Department at Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP in its Washington D.C. office.
The fact that Lieberman’s cybersecurity bill did not become law is of little consequence to law firms, Young said. “A substantial political figure, and I would include Joe Lieberman in that category, bring to a law firm very high levels of connections. They bring a tremendous overall advisory capacity and if you’re representing business clients, you certainly have to be paying attention to public policy issues.”
Tong, who acknowledges he was an impressionable young intern when he worked for Lieberman back in 1988, recalled his boss as being “very thoughtful and analytical.”
“Keep in mind, he was the Attorney General before he was a U.S. Senator,” Tong said. “So he definitely has the chops to be very effective as a lawyer, along with his breadth of experience on a national level. I think that’s very compelling to a lot of law firms, as well as any business institution.”•