There’s a new government contracts boutique on the block in the nation’s capital.
Steptoe & Johnson partner Sharon Larkin and Bradley Arant Boult Cummings partner Elizabeth Ferrell debuted their new, female-owned firm Larkin Ferrell earlier this month. Larkin Ferrell is the latest boutique government practice shop to open this year in Washington, D.C.
“The idea of opening our firm [came] from a shared vision and goal of what we thought the practice of law should be like in a law firm, based largely from our experiences over the course of our career,” Larkin said. “And to us, it starts and ends with client service.”
Both Larkin and Ferrell have spent the majority of their legal careers handling government contracts work and, through their tight network, were introduced to one another and eventually developed a plan to form their own firm. Larkin Ferrell counts as partners its two namesakes, while also employing as special counsel Larkin’s husband, James Larkin, a former solo practitioner.
The new firm will focus largely on representing clients—both large and small companies—in government contracts through all stages of procurement.
“Our clients want great expertise, but they also want efficiency and value,” Larkin said. “We want to deliver more focus on their business, more flexibility and adaptability to quickly respond to their needs.”
For the two government contract lawyers, this meant setting up a small shop in Washington, D.C., near K Street that eliminated law firm bureaucracy and minimized conflicts, said Larkin, who began her legal career in 1999 as an associate at Venable.
Three years later, Larkin joined the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), first as an assistant general counsel in the procurement law group, before becoming a judge with the agency. In 2014, she returned to private practice and spent a year at San Francisco-based litigation boutique Rogers Joseph O’Donnell before joining Steptoe & Johnson’s government contracts group.
One way that Larkin Ferrell plans on maximizing its flexibility is through alternative fee arrangements, said Ferrell, who began her legal career more than 30 years ago at Pierson, Ball & Dowd, a Washington, D.C.-based mid-size firm that was acquired by Reed Smith in 1989. The lower overhead costs afforded by operating a smaller firm should allow the duo to be creative in establishing a pay structure—whether it’s through a standard hourly rate or flat fee—that’s more conducive to client needs.
“The beauty of our firm is we can do what we want,” added Ferrell, who was also once a partner at Dentons predecessor Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. “If we decide that a flat rate, a contingent fee or a fixed retainer per month makes sense, [we] can sit down and discuss it with the client.”
Single-practice boutiques have been popping up with greater frequency in the nation’s capital in recent months, often with former Big Law partners attached to them. Former Holland & Knight partner Jerrold Ganzfried opened up a solo appellate practice in January. In March, Robert Nichols, a former government contracts partner at Covington & Burling, opened up his own firm with Andy Liu, a former federal prosecutor and general counsel at the Social Security Administration.
But serving their longtime clients wasn’t the only reason that Larkin Ferrell’s founding partners wanted to start their own shop. The two Big Law veterans said they wanted to “pay it forward” and demonstrate to other female lawyers that such a venture is possible.
“We [wanted] to be role models for younger women lawyers to show them that [you] can do things differently,” Larkin said. “You can be successful and this can be done.”
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