Biglaw, Department of Justice, Federal Government, Politics

WilmerHale’s Warm Welcome — for Conservatives

WilmerHale Wilmer Hale Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale Dorr AboveTheLaw Above the Law blog.jpgThis week brought good news from WilmerHale. The firm’s profits per partner climbed by approximately 7 percent last year, from $1.08 million in 2008 to $1.16 million in 2009, according to the National Law Journal.

The increase in PPP was driven, in part, by a dip in partner headcount (from about 330 in 2008 to 318 in 2009). Sometimes a decline in the number of partners is a bad thing, but not for WilmerHale. As co-managing partner William Perlstein explained to the NLJ, it was due in part to “at least a dozen” partners being recruited away by the Obama administration — a testament to the talents and connectedness of Wilmer lawyers.

WilmerHale has a long and distinguished history of sending its lawyers to top government jobs and then taking them back afterward, so the firm’s clients can benefit from expertise and connections developed while in the public sector. The firm boasts such all-stars as former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick and former Solicitor General Seth Waxman, who served in the Clinton Administration.

Due in large part to folks like Gorelick and Waxman, WilmerHale has long been recognized as a liberal legal powerhouse. This reputation was further burnished when numerous Wilmer lawyers took prominent positions in the White House Counsel’s office and the Department of Justice last January, after Barack Obama took office.

Despite its reputation as a left-leaning law firm, WilmerHale has also been assembling an impressive team of conservative legal talent, including notable alums of the Bush Administration. Some of these hires are quite recent. They include Carl Nichols, who joined the firm earlier this month after serving in high-ranking Justice Department positions, and Dan Gallagher, a former aide to Chris Cox at the SEC.

That’s right — conservative (or libertarian) lawyers, located squarely to the right of center, many of them card-carrying members of the Federalist Society and/or the Republican Party. At WilmerHale. We kid you not.

We name names, and interview WilmerHale partner Reginald Brown, after the jump.

Over the past five years, WilmerHale has picked up several conservative legal luminaries, many of them former Supreme Court clerks. In addition to Carl Nichols, who clerked for Justice Thomas, the firm is home to the following members of the Elect (who also all served in the Bush Administration):

  • partner Ben Powell, who clerked for Justices Stevens and White and served as General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI);

  • counsel Rachel Brand, who clerked for Justice Kennedy and led the DOJ’s Office of Legal Policy (and whose arrival at Wilmer was covered here); and
  • senior associate Dan Kearney, who clerked for Chief Justice Roberts and worked at the State Department.

Other notable WilmerHale lawyers who have worked in government or politics on the right side of the aisle include partner Paul Eckert, former Associate Counsel and Special Assistant to President George W. Bush; partner Todd Steggerda, former chief counsel to the 2008 McCain presidential campaign; partner Andrew Vollmer, former Deputy General Counsel at the Securities and Exchange Commission; senior international counsel Robert Kimmitt, former Deputy Treasury Secretary; and senior associate Stephen Cox, formerly of the Department of Homeland Security.

Reginald Brown Reginald J Brown Reg Brown WilmerHale.jpgWe were surprised and impressed by the number of vast right-wing conspirators at WilmerHale. So we reached out to WilmerHale partner Reginald Brown (pictured), vice-chair of the firm’s Public Policy and Strategy Practice Group, to discuss these developments.

Like many of the right-of-center lawyers he has helped recruit over to WH, Reg Brown has significant government service under his belt. He served in the second Bush Administration, as special assistant to the President and associate White House Counsel, from 2003 to 2005. (He also clerked, for Judge Joseph Hatchett on the Eleventh Circuit, after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1996.)

ATL: It seems that the firm has picked up a lot of leading conservative lawyers lately. Is this an intentional strategy on the part of WilmerHale?

RB: The firm has always been interested in recruiting the best and brightest from the government. That’s not an approach that only applies in times of Democratic control; it’s a natural thing for the firm to be doing. We recruited a lot of all stars out of the Clinton Administration, and a number of them have gone back into the Obama Administration. It’s definitely part of our lateral recruitment strategy.

We didn’t get everyone we wanted out of the Bush Administration, but we got our fair share. A lot of people coming out of the administration had extraordinary opportunities, in business and law firms and academia, so we didn’t get everyone we wanted. But we’re happy with our success.

ATL: Is it an odd time to be picking up conservative legal talent, since Republicans are not in power currently?

RB: No, because what you really want are good lawyers, and the perspectives that they pick up in government are what’s really valuable to clients. A senior Republican official from the Justice Department is just as valuable to the client as a senior Democratic official; they both understand how people in the Department think. We just look for very good lawyers. In this town, you wear a blue jersey or a red jersey, and we want to have good people from both sides.

ATL: What makes the firm attractive to right-leaning lawyers? What is your basic sales pitch? If I’m a bright conservative young lawyer, why shouldn’t I go to, say, Gibson Dunn or Kirkland in D.C.?

RB: A shorter line. There are a lot more conservatives vying to get a bit of Ted Olson’s time [at Gibson]. If they come here, there’s a shorter line in terms of an opportunity to shine. At some firms, conservatives are a dime a dozen. Here that’s not necessarily the case, and that can make it attractive to some people.

But that’s a modest piece of the pitch. The real core of the pitch is that Wilmer’s a firm that has shown it knows how to recruit people from government and turn them into players with booming practices. Wilmer is the kind of firm that is willing to make investments in lawyers coming out of government. We have a track record.

ATL: How did you decide to come to the firm back in 1997?

RB: Wilmer as a law firm has a really rich tradition of being engaged in public affairs. For anyone who is interested in public policy, it’s a great place to practice law. It’s liberal, but not more liberal than Harvard or Yale Law.

To be fair, though, Wilmer is a pretty liberal law firm. When I was a young associate at the firm, we had a group called the RAWG – the Republican Associates Working Group. We’d meet with Boyden Gray in the smallest conference room.

I had the honor of being the first associate whose Federalist Society dues were paid by the firm. They always paid for people to join the ABA. To the firm’s credit, nobody blinked about my Fed Soc dues. Since then we’ve had a good track record of growing the number of conservatives here.

ATL: How does having conservatives at the firm affect case selection? Are there any cases, either pro bono or not, that reflect a right-of-center orientation?

RB: We took on Hannah Giles as a client, who’s in the middle of the wars against ACORN. That case might not have come through the door if not for conservative lawyers. It is staffed with Ben Powell, who’s a conservative, as well as Stephen Hut, who’s a liberal. A client of the firm is a client of the firm.

Having conservatives does broaden the diversity of our pro bono practice. It also helps us stay plugged in. There is a big network of conservatives who are general counsels of major companies, like David Leitch at Ford, Ted Ullyot at Facebook, Hewitt Pate at Chevron, and Judge Luttig – plus some of his deputies – at Boeing.

There’s an increasingly large number of well-placed conservatives in the bar. So having a diverse range of lawyers at your firm is good for generating business.

It also helps us once we have cases. It definitely enriches the practice of law for me to be able to partner with, say, Jamie Gorelick. We can anticipate the way issues will be perceived on both the left on the right.

ATL: And are you currently still on the lookout for conservative lawyers?

RB: We are. Obviously most of the folks that were in the administration have cycled out at this point. There are still a few more superstars out there, and we are very much hoping that we can pick up one or two. Of course, we aren’t alone in going after people from government service.

We haven’t restricted our recruiting to partner level candidates. One of the things we’ve tried to do is to also seek out very bright younger lawyers at the senior associate or counsel level who may have served in government in more junior roles. Having a diverse pool of younger lawyers with government experience helps us with staffing on high profile public policy matters and keeps the pipeline primed for the future.

Partisanship stops at the door. Within the firm people don’t say, oh, that’s a Republican lawyer or a Democratic lawyer. They say, that’s a very good lawyer. At the end of the day, it’s the quality of the lawyering that matters.

WilmerHale Posts 7 Percent Increase in Profits Per Partner [National Law Journal]
Carl J. Nichols Joins WilmerHale [WilmerHale (press release)]
SEC Official to Join Wilmer [The BLT: Blog of the Legal Times]

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