Washington Wrap is a weekly look at the biggest legal industry news and Big Law moves shaping the legal business in Washington, D.C. Send tips and lateral moves to Ryan Lovelace at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a few observers have noted, Brett Kavanaugh and his would-be colleagues on the U.S. Supreme Court—on the right and the left—had career trajectories that look awfully alike: taking them from Ivy League law schools to (for most) prestigious clerkships, government service, and then the bench.
But when it comes to their time in private practice, Kavanaugh, a former Kirkland & Ellis partner, would only be the second justice on the current court with a partnership at an Am Law 200 firm under his belt. The other is John Roberts, who was partner at Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovells). Elena Kagan practiced at Williams & Connolly, but as an associate. Sonia Sotomayor was a partner at a much smaller New York firm, Pavia & Harcourt, and Neil Gorsuch was a partner at high-powered Washington boutique Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel.
Following a clerkship under Justice Anthony Kennedy, Kavanaugh made his way to Kirkland while in the orbit of Kenneth Starr, the former U.S. solicitor general, federal judge, and pursuer of the Clintons. Starr wrote in The Washington Post this week that he played a key role in recruiting Kavanaugh to Kirkland about a quarter-century ago.
“His sterling credentials included no fewer than three clerkships, and the competition to snag him was fierce,” Starr recalled. “Kirkland & Ellis won the Kavanaugh recruiting derby, but about that time I unexpectedly found myself with a new responsibility—as independent counsel in the far-flung Whitewater investigation involving Bill and Hillary Clinton—and I wanted him on the team. He could have chosen to stick with his plan to start a lucrative career in private law practice, but instead he answered the call of public service.”
From 1994 to 1997 and part of 1998, Kavanaugh worked with Starr as an associate counsel in the Office of Independent Counsel. He served as a partner at Kirkland from 1997 to 1998 and from 1999 to 2001.
Among other matters while at the firm, Kavanaugh worked with Eugene Assaf as his primary co-counsel defending against a series of class action lawsuits against his client AOL. Assaf, a litigation partner and member of Kirkland’s global management committee, praised Kavanaugh in a statement on his tenure at what is now the world’s biggest law firm by revenue.
“Judge Kavanaugh was an exceptionally hard-working, thoughtful, and engaged lawyer at Kirkland,” Assaf said. “He was committed to his craft, his clients, and his colleagues—a wonderful combination of intelligence, drive, and good humor.”
Have your own memories of working alongside or opposite Kavanaugh during his Kirkland days? If there’s a story you’d like to share, drop me a line at email@example.com.
Law Firm Moves, News & Notes:
Speaking of Kavanaugh’s trajectory, Covington & Burling senior of counsel Jon Kyl is acting as the Supreme Court pick’s “lead sherpa” through the U.S. Senate confirmation process. Kyl, a former U.S. senator from Arizona, served in a similar function for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his confirmation.
Kavanaugh’s selection has also prompted several moves and shifting priorities across government. Zina Bash, a former Kavanaugh clerk, rejoined the White House to assist Kavanaugh alongside Kyl as he prepares for the Senate hearings.
Candice Wong, a former Kavanaugh clerk working as an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., similarly took on a new role in the Justice Department working in support of Kavanaugh’s nomination.
Many of her colleagues at U.S. attorneys’ offices nationwide will also be working on Kavanaugh’s cause, as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has reportedly requested up to three federal prosecutors from each U.S. attorney’s office in a letter sent to all 93 U.S. attorneys.
Troutman Sanders grabbed five partners with litigation, insurance and reinsurance experience from Crowell & Moring for its offices on both U.S. coasts. Three of the partners—William O’Neill, Leslie Davis and Michael Carolan—are based in Washington.
The International Association of Defense Counsel elected Venable partner Craig Thompson as its president. Thompson, a Washington- and Baltimore-based partner in Venable’s products liability and mass torts practice, will serve a one-year term in charge of the invitation-only global legal organization for attorneys who represent corporate and insurance interests. He previously served on the IADC’s executive committee and as its president-elect.
Mark Weller joined Polsinelli as a shareholder in the national public policy practice. Weller, a former attorney for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and staffer to former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, will help to expand the firm’s regulatory and government affairs work in Washington.
Lisa Phelan joined Morrison & Foerster after more than a quarter-century at the Justice Department. She will work in the global antitrust law practice and investigations and white-collar group after spending the last 16 years as chief of the National Criminal Enforcement and Washington Criminal I Sections of the Antitrust Division.
Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck snatched two policy advisers for the firm’s government relations department from McGuireWoods. Charlie Iovino and Radha Mohan are joining Brownstein as senior policy adviser and policy adviser, respectively.