Thomas Donilon was a key advisor to the president on national security and foreign policy. Donilon, center and in light blue, stands with arms crossed watching the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in May 2011.
Thomas Donilon was a key advisor to the president on national security and foreign policy. Donilon, center and in light blue, stands with arms crossed watching the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011. (Photo: Pete Souza/White House.)

The adviser President Barack Obama said “shaped every single national security policy of my presidency” will return to the law firm that shaped his career.

Thomas Donilon, Obama’s national security adviser from 2010 to 2013 and a veteran of the Clinton and Carter administrations, rejoins O’Melveny & Myers as a partner, vice chairman and a member of its management committee.

Donilon, 59, had been a top political mind in the administration throughout the hunt for Osama bin Laden; the National Security Agency surveillance scandal; the terrorist attack on the embassy in Benghazi, Libya; and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. His experiences in government, he said in an interview Thursday, will inform him as he works on corporate governance, cybersecurity and financial-services legal issues.

“The legal business changes and evolves, but at its core, my life has really been focused on counseling and managing complex issues,“ he said.

Specifically, he highlighted his experience managing U.S. policy in Asia and facing cybersecurity threats from inside the country and around the world.

“[Companies] certainly face increased risks from cyberattacks,” he said. “That risk will increase. It will require firms to put in place dynamic and comprehensive strategies and programs to deal with these challenges.”

Prior to his years in the Obama White House, Donilon bounced between O’Melveny and public service. He managed the 1980 Democratic National Convention in New York City and helped President Jimmy Carter in his transition from the presidency to private life in Georgia. Donilon earned a J.D. from the University of Virginia before landing at O’Melveny, the firm his mentor, Warren Christopher, chaired.

In 1985, Donilon started at O’Melveny as an associate, and seven years later was back to assisting a politician—helping Bill Clinton prepare for general-election debates against President George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot. When Christopher left the firm to become secretary of state, Donilon followed as his chief of staff.

Shaping his career “was the advice that Secretary Christopher gave me, which was to direct my attention towards public service but to do it in the context of having a legal career,” Donilon said. “That was the way he went about his career.“

Donilon returned to the firm in the mid-1990s, then worked as chief legal officer at Fannie Mae from 1999 to 2005. He was back at the firm before joining the Obama administration’s national security team in 2009.

“Tom resumes his status as one of the leading lawyers on complex issues of policy, global strategy and governance, and his most recent experience will enable him to provide our clients a rare level of judgment and insight on global issues,” O’Melveny chairman Bradley Butwin said in a written statement. “Tom will bring that same experience and insight to bear as part of the firm’s senior leadership.

The announcement reunites Donilon with another Obama official who will work at the firm.

Danielle Gray, Obama’s former cabinet secretary and adviser, will work with Donilon on complex regulatory and legal issues, the firm said.

Gray starts at O’Melveny May 19 as a partner. Donilon started at the firm today.

Also on Thursday, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr announced Edward Siskel, deputy White House counsel and deputy assistant to the president, would join the firm as a partner.

Recently, the NLJ has rounded up other notable moves to private practice from this White House’s second term. They include: Karen Dunn, a former associate White House counsel, who joined Boies, Schiller & Flexner as a partner in February; former White House adviser Ed Pagano, who joined Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; and White House special counsel Jonathan Su, who joined Latham & Watkins as a white-collar defense litigator.

Contact Katelyn Polantz at On Twitter: @kpolantz.