W. Neil Eggleston. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ.)
W. Neil Eggleston, a white-collar defender in Kirkland & Ellis’ Washington office, was named Monday the next White House counsel.
Eggleston was picked to replace Kathryn Ruemmler, a former Latham & Watkins partner who plans to stay at the post until mid-May, the White House said. Ruemmler intends to return to private practice in New York.
“Neil brings extraordinary expertise, credentials and experience to our team,” President Barack Obama said in a written statement. “He has a passion for public service, is renowned for his conscientiousness and foresight, and I look forward to working closely with him in the coming years.”
Eggleston is “the perfect person for this job” at this point in Obama’s presidency, said Jamie Gorelick, who leads the defense and government-contracts practice at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.
“Whether a president is a Republican or a Democrat, the last two years of the second term is likely to be filled with investigations and that is something Neil knows very well and has abundant experience with,” Gorelick said.
Mark Filip, a partner in Kirkland’s Chicago and Washington offices who leads the firm’s government enforcement defense and internal investigations group, described Eggleston as a well-rounded generalist with deep experience in the government and in the private sector.
“I think he’ll be a great White House counsel because whatever comes—and you don’t always see the future—whatever comes he’s going to be really strong at it,” said Filip, a former deputy attorney general during the George W. Bush presidency.
Filip recalled a time when Kirkland needed to counsel top leadership at a large company on an issue that developed quickly. There was no time to put together computer presentations and pages of bullet-pointed options, and no time for a week of legal research. Eggleston, Filip said, showed a sense of calm and poise in dynamic, difficult situations. (He declined to name the company.)
“He helped them think through those issues and consider alternatives, and talk through how would this impact the organization, how would this be different, how does this impact our various stakeholders,” Filip said. “Just a very, very mature informed judgment that he had developed in a variety of different settings over many years.”
At the end of a phone call, “I thought to myself, okay I guess that’s what everyone’s talking about,” Filip said. “No legal institution could have Neil Eggleston walk out the door and not feel like one of your best ballplayers just walked off the field.”
During the past 20 years, Eggleston has handled high-profile cases with deep ties to the White House. He represented former Obama White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel during the criminal prosecution of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Eggleston represented the Office of the President in the Monica Lewinsky investigation and secretaries of labor and transportation and U.S. senators in ethics inquiries. In the Lewinsky matter, Eggleston represented President Clinton on privilege issues.
Between 1993 and 1994, Eggleston was a White House lawyer under Clinton. In that role, he worked with Susan Davies, who joined Kirkland in 2011 as a litigation partner after serving as deputy White House counsel under Obama, according to a Kirkland announcement. In the White House, Davies oversaw the judicial nomination process.
“This is, for people who have an interest in public sector legal work, this is truly one of the capstone positions one can hold in the government among a very small circle of jobs,” Filip said. “So I think if you’re someone who is public service minded and you’re a lawyer, and get asked to do that job—very hard not to say yes and be excited about it for all the right reasons.”
Obama Monday praised Ruemmler, whose work at the White House included a focus on the judicial-nominations fight on Capitol Hill.
“Kathy has become one of my most trusted advisers,” Obama said in the statement. “I deeply value her smarts, her wit, her impeccable judgment – but most importantly her uncanny ability to see around the corners that nobody else in the room anticipates. I will forever be grateful for her service to the country, will continue to seek her counsel, and most of all, I am proud to call her a close friend.”
Ruemmler, the third White House counsel to serve in the Obama White House, was among the youngest lawyers ever to take the job when she succeeded Robert Bauer in 2011. Bauer returned then to Perkins Coie. Gregory Craig, now a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, was the president’s first top in-house attorney.
Updated: 525 p.m.