Wilmer partner Michael Connor. Courtesy: Department of Interior

Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr is building out its natural resources and Native American practices with the hire this week of a former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. 

Michael Connor joins the firm in Washington, D.C., as a partner after serving in the Interior Department’s second highest role.

“It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be to find a firm that had developed a practice in all the areas I have expertise in,” Connor said Tuesday.

He expects to take on some Native American tribal clients and to advise on energy regulatory issues. Connor will also work out of the firm’s Denver office, though he lives in the D.C. area. He said he does not yet have a roadmap for the size of book of business he’d like to develop, though he does have a “conceptual plan,” he said, for fitting into the law firm’s work.

“No doubt he will help deepen our knowledge and be a part of our clients’ successes in a very strategic way,” Andy Spielman, Wilmer’s energy and natural resources practice head and a co-leader of its Denver office, said in a statement.

Connor, 54, has spent his entire career since law school in government, first as a lawyer in the Interior Department’s solicitor’s office, and then in policy advising roles during the Clinton administration and for a former top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. During the Obama years, he led the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees dams and the agency’s energy production in the Western United States. He became deputy secretary in 2014 under Sally Jewell, taking on a job that functions like a chief operating officer for the department.

At Wilmer he’ll join his former boss, Ken Salazar, who was Interior secretary before Jewell.

Connor spent the last six months as a fellow with the Walton Family Foundation. During that time, he thought through what could be next, such as working for a nongovernmental group, in industry or at a law firm. (He is licensed to practice law in Colorado and New Mexico and plans to seek a law license in the District of Columbia.)

Ultimately, Connor’s search narrowed to Wilmer—partly because of his connection to Salazar—and to three other law firms. 

“I was impressed with their approach to practice, which is a team approach,” he said of Wilmer. “I think it replicated more of what I was experienced with in my government practice—trying to get a coalition together to address very complex problems.”