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 email@example.com.
Mueller appears to have had his crosshairs trained on Skadden for months. First, former Skadden associate Alex van der Zwaan was given a 30-day jail term after pleading guilty in February to one charge brought by Mueller. Then, Mueller referred a case involving Gregory Craig, a former Skadden partner who retired from the firm in April, to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. The revelation of the referral became public this week, although Mueller’s action appears to have occurred much earlier.
Skadden has remained mum on Craig’s referral and has previously said that it cooperated with federal investigators on the van der Zwaan matter. Three Skadden partners, however, said the firm asked Craig to leave after federal prosecutors notified him that he was the subject of an investigation, said a criminal defense lawyer familiar with Mueller’s probe.
Craig, who was unable to be reached for comment by the time of this story (a home phone number listed for him on Martha’s Vineyard was disconnected), still has plenty of defenders, including those that once worked with him at Williams & Connolly, a firm he did not return to in 2009 after leaving public service to head the global policy and litigation strategy practice at Skadden.
“In the 30 years that Greg was a partner at Williams & Connolly, he was an extraordinary lawyer who always adhered to the highest standards of the profession,“ said Brendan Sullivan Jr., a senior partner at the firm and a legendary inside the Beltway litigator. “He was a wonderful partner and a good friend to many of us over the years and I cannot imagine any circumstance in which he would act inappropriately.“
Skadden’s peers by-and-large think the firm’s reputation remains intact and that it has responded with a seriousness befitting the situation.
Joshua Peck, an independent legal consultant who has overseen media relations for firms such as Duane Morris and Kirkland & Ellis, said Skadden’s anomalous situation is not creating a permanent tarnish on the firm. Peck noted that the firm’s clients and peers know that Skadden did not achieve its sterling reputation and profit by playing fast and loose with ethics and the law.
However, handling such a crisis is not easy nor for the faint of heart, said Scott Sobel, a senior vice president for crisis and litigation at kglobal, where he has managed hundreds of high-profile crisis investigations for law firms. Sobel stressed that every moment is precious in response to a crisis, and waiting to take action or solicit advice can prove costly for law firms.
“Many firms and attorneys don’t follow the advice they would provide their own clients and let internal politics dictate legal strategy and procedures,” Sobel said about how firms respond to crisis situations akin to the matter Skadden currently faces.
As Skadden navigates the public perception challenges posed by Mueller’s probe, it will likely encounter not just office politics but partisan politics too. Craig is a former White House counsel in the Obama administration, and President Donald Trump has routinely sought to characterize the subject of the ongoing investigations as a “witch hunt” led by his political opponents. Depending on where Manhattan prosecutors and Mueller turn next, the bad news about van der Zwaan and Craig could dog Skadden in the months to come.
Law Firm Moves, News, & Notes:
The Judicial Crisis Network unveiled two new ads this week as part of its multimillion-dollar campaign boosting Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s bid to join the U.S. Supreme Court.
The right-leaning legal organization said it has spent $5.3 million on ads since Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, including approximately $2.1 million on ads targeting Alabama, Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia. The aforementioned states have Democratic senators running for re-election in November, except Alabama, where Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, a former private practice lawyer backed by Big Law, defeated Roy Moore in 2017.
King & Spalding made a slew of new hires this week, most of them private equity lawyers in New York. Zori Ferkin left Morrison & Foerster in Washington, D.C., to join the firm as counsel as part of the hiring wave. Ferkin’s practice involves energy, oil and gas, and regulatory matters.
Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz grew its intellectual property group this week with the addition of Jean Frydman in Baltimore. Frydman joined as of counsel and handles food and drug law matters. She previously worked as a partner at Fox Rothschild.
Katten Muchin Rosenman elected nine new partners this week that will focus on the areas of commercial finance, corporate law, insolvency and restructuring, litigation, and structured finance, and securitization. Katten’s executive committee promoted Brett Fox to partner on the commercial finance team in Washington.
Former U.S. ambassador to Belize, Vinai Thummalapally, and Nick Rathod, a former special assistant to President Barack Obama, have introduced a new public affairs and government relations firm in Washington, D.C., called Red Fort Strategies. In a release, the firm touts its Asian-American ownership and experience with and knowledge of the United States’ relationship with the Indo-Pacific and Middle East nations.
Ostendio, a cybersecurity and risk-management solutions company based in Northern Virginia, is partnering with the Nixon Law Group, a Virginia-based health care boutique, to service clients facing new health care privacy regulatory requirements.
Between Ostendio’s software and the Nixon Law Group attorneys’ industry knowledge, the duo intends to help clients build and manage their security and compliance programs.
Miriam Rozen contributed reporting to this column.