As the old saying goes, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a lawyer to be hired as a lateral partner at Williams & Connolly.” The last lateral partner to be hired by the super-elite litigation shop, which people and corporations turn to when they’re in the deepest of doo-doo, was Gerald Feffer, brought into the fold over two decades ago.
So this latest move is fairly big news. Appellate superstar Kannon Shanmugam, one of Washington’s top 40 lawyers under 40 (see #21), is leaving the Solicitor General’s office, where he has served for the past four years as an Assistant to the Solicitor General. He’ll be joining Williams & Connolly — as a partner.
“It’s very hard to leave the Justice Department, but I’m excited about the challenge of helping to build the appellate practice at Williams & Connolly,” Shanmugam told us. “It’s arguably the best firm for litigation in the country, but what ultimately attracted me to the firm is its distinctive culture.”
“We are thrilled to have Kannon join us,” said Robert Barnett, a member of the firm’s Executive Committee (and author rep to the stars — he’s negotiated book deals for the Clintons, Barack Obama, Bob Woodward, Lynne Cheney, and Alan Greenspan, among others). “He’s our first lateral partner in 22 years, which is indicative of how rarely we have lateral partners join us.”
“Almost everyone at the firm is homegrown, coming up through the associate ranks and making partner,” explained Barnett to ATL. “Kannon, because of his exceptional qualities, is going to be a rare exception to that pattern. On a personal level, he’s a terrific individual. But we are also extremely respectful and welcoming of his legal skills.”
Word on the street is that Shanmugam received offers from about half a dozen other firms. “He was sought by many firms, and being as competitive as we are, we’re pleased to have won the Kannon sweepstakes,” said Bob Barnett.
Additional discussion, after the jump.
Shanmugam focuses on appellate and Supreme Court work. During his time in the SG’s office, he argued eight cases before the Court. He’s also a card-carrying member of the Federalist Society, who clerked for conservative icons J. Michael Luttig (4th Cir.) and Antonin Scalia (OT 1999).
So Williams & Connolly is an interesting choice for him. First, it’s known more for its top-flight trial practice, as opposed to its appellate work. Second, it’s not a particularly conservative / ideological shop (compared to, say, the D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis, where Shanmugam worked before joining the SG’s office).
Upon closer examination, however, the pairing makes perfect sense. Williams & Connolly already has a strong appellate practice — it boasts prominent Supreme Court litigator John Kester, approximately 17 out of its 224 lawyers are members of the Elect, and about a dozen of its attorneys have argued before the SCOTUS — but it still has ample room for expansion.
“[Kannon's] skills, particularly on the appellate level, will supplement the excellent appellate practice we have now, assist our litigation practice, and help us grow both,” Bob Barnett said.
As for the ideological issue, although Williams & Connolly clients include leading Democrats, like the Clintons and Obama, the firm has also represented prominent Republicans, including Dick Cheney and Oliver North. Right now the firm is busy defending Senator Ted Stevens (R – Alaska). If things don’t go well for Senator Stevens, he’ll need all the appellate help he can get.
Congratulations to Kannon Shanmugam on his new position, and to Williams & Connolly on their latest hire!