U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr. in his office at the U.S. Department of Justice, in Washington, D.C., on his last day in office. June 24, 2016. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM.
Ending months of speculation, former U.S. solicitor general Donald Verrilli Jr. will join Los Angeles-based Munger, Tolles & Olson and will open a Washington, D.C. office for the firm, Munger announced on Wednesday.
As solicitor general, Verrilli helped to defend key Obama administration positions at the U.S. Supreme Court, ranging from health care to same-sex marriage. He was formerly a partner at Jenner & Block, where he had worked for 20 years.
Jenner partner Michael DeSanctis is also making the move to Munger, as is former deputy associate attorney general Chad Golder, who joined the U.S. Justice Department from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr in 2009.
The move is blow to Jenner & Block, and a surprising one for one of Washington’s best-known advocates. Munger doesn’t have an office outside California, it isn’t known for its Supreme Court work, and it doesn’t do much lateral partner hiring.
Verrilli described a difficult decision process in an interview Wednesday. “It was an agonizing decision,” he said. “Jenner is a great firm. I love the lawyers there and have nothing but the deepest affection for them. But this gives me a chance to strike out in a new direction.”
Of Jenner, he said: “I haven’t been there in eight years, and they’ve been thriving without me.”
The former SG said he talked to several firms and settled on Munger after thinking about the move during a trip to Italy.
“It’s an opportunity to build an office from the ground up and put my stamp on it,” he said. He was attracted to Munger’s “perfect alignment of values” with his, he added, citing the firm’s talent, collegiality, pro bono service and democratic governance. He noted that he wants a practice that goes beyond advocating at the Supreme Court and appellate work.
Compensation, he said, was not a driving factor. “It’s not about the money,” Verrilli said.
Munger Stakes a Claim in D.C.
Since Verrilli stepped down from his solicitor general’s post in June, he’s been considered one of the most coveted legal hires out of the Obama Administration. He became solicitor general in 2011 and has argued 37 cases before the Supreme Court, including a successful defense of the Affordable Care Act and arguing in favor of marriage equality.
He will be subject to a two-year “cooling off” period that will prevent him from working on certain matters during that time.
“This is our first new office in 25 years,” said Munger co-managing partner Brad Brian. “Opening an office in Washington, D.C. with a lawyer like Don Verrilli is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
In an interview Wednesday, Brian said the firm didn’t have any connection to Verrilli before it approached him. “When it became clear he was leaving, our antennae went off,” he said. Brian declined to discuss if Munger was competing against other firms, but noted: “A lawyer of his talent obviously would have been attractive to other firms.”
Brian said he expects Verrilli’s practice won’t be “a small Supreme Court boutique” that is limited to high court advocacy or even to appellate work.
“His desire is to have a full range of representation, including counseling and regulatory work,” he said. “He sees himself as a problem solver.”
Verrilli praised Munger in a statement. “The firm has an unparalleled reputation for solving national and international clients’ toughest problems with lean teams of the most talented lawyers in the country. That is exactly the kind of firm I want to join,” he said.
Munger, which has about 200 lawyers and has intentionally stayed small, will now have offices in Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
At Jenner, managing partner Terrence Truax had kind words for Verrilli on Wednesday. “We are proud of Don Verrilli’s roots with Jenner & Block and grateful for his extraordinary public service,” he said in a statement. “We wish both Don and Michael the best.
Jenner, which has about 90 lawyers in Washington, still has one of the stronger Supreme Court practices. Its appellate practice chair, Paul Smith, regularly argues before the Supreme Court, and last term, the firm finished third to only Bancroft and Jones Day in its number of appearances. The firm’s lawyers argued six cases before the justices.
“We are excited about the future of our appellate & Supreme Court practice,” said Truax.
It remains to be seen where current acting solicitor general Ian Gershengorn will go when he leaves the government. Gershengorn is also a former Jenner partner who became acting SG when Verrilli exited in June.