Texas-based trial firm McKool Smith has expanded its investigations and compliance section by hiring former federal prosecutor Anthony J. “Tony” Phillips as a partner in Houston and Washington, D.C.
Phillips, who joined from Houston’s Smyser Kaplan & Veselka, started at McKool Smith last week.
Both firms stand on big trial-firm reputations. Texas Lawyer this month named Smyser Kaplan Litigation Department of the Year in the small-firm category of its Professional Excellence Awards, and McKool Smith was the winner in the midsize category.
Phillips said he made the move to McKool Smith because the larger firm provides him great opportunity to build his practice. He will do complex commercial litigation, white-collar crime defense, and compliance.
“It’s got that nimble and aggressive boutique mentality, but eight offices,” he said. “We really do have capabilities from coast to coast. We really do have all of the resources and all of the talent of the big firms—the big New York and D.C. firms—but much greater rate flexibility.”
In Texas, McKool Smith has offices in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and Marshall. It also has offices in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, New York and Silicon Valley.
David Sochia, managing partner of McKool Smith, said in a statement that Phillips expands the white-collar defense practice to the firm’s Houston office. ”He is a talented trial lawyer with significant experience in complex investigations and government enforcement actions—areas in which our clients have increased needs,” Sochia stated.
In a statement from Smyser Kaplan, Lee Kaplan, a founder of the firm, said: “We enjoyed working with Tony and wish him well.”
Phillips has had a varied career since he graduated from Harvard Law School in 2004. He worked for four years as a JAG officer for the U.S. Air Force, where he litigated more than a dozen courts-martial, then worked at Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C. as an associate. In 2011, he took a job as a trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice in the Public Integrity Section and worked there until the summer of 2014, when he moved to his wife’s hometown of Houston and joined Vinson & Elkins. A year later, he became senior legal officer for corporate ethics and compliance at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where he developed a compliance and ethics program, and then in 2017 joined Smyser Kaplan, where he became a partner and did civil litigation, white-collar crime defense and investigations.
“I’m an anti-corruption lawyer by training,” Phillips said, adding that he plans to do compliance and investigations work for companies nationwide, but also keep a foot in the courtroom.
“I have advised people who are under investigation, but my background is much more on the investigations side and I figure out what’s wrong and work to correct it. That’s what I enjoy,” he said.
Having worked for the DOJ in Washington, D.C., Phillips has a slim connection to Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor in the Russia probe. Phillips said he received a commendation from Mueller, then-director of the FBI, for his work on a high-profile police corruption case in Alabama.
“It’s kind of a big deal to get that commendation from a director’s office,” Phillips said, noting that he has not met Mueller.