Biglaw, Department of Justice, Federal Government, Job Searches, Musical Chairs, Partner Issues, Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorneys Offices

Musical Chairs: Patrick Fitzgerald’s New Home

Patrick Fitzgerald

When renowned federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald stepped down as U.S. Attorney in Chicago, he reacted skeptically to the suggestion that he join the dark side jump over to private practice and become a defense lawyer. When asked about this at a press conference regarding his departure, he quipped, “Can you see me as a defense attorney?”

Well, pooh-poohing something isn’t the same as rejecting it out of hand. Yesterday brought news that Pat Fitzgerald will be entering private practice after all.

So which Biglaw firm just landed this big fish?

After serving as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois for more than a decade, Fitzgerald will be joining Skadden, according to the Chicago Tribune:

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP announced Monday that Fitzgerald will become a partner in the firm’s Chicago office on Oct. 29.

Skadden has long been among New York’s most prestigious law firms, but hiring Fitzgerald is still a coup. After leaving his post as U.S. attorney at the end of June after nearly 11 years, Fitzgerald, 51, became the most sought-after lawyer in recent Chicago history.

Indeed. As one Above the Law source put it, “if he goes Biglaw and stays in Chicago, whatever firm gets him will be the go-to litigation firm for the city. He is amazingly respected here.” For some of the highlights of his distinguished prosecutorial career, see our prior post.

Although Fitzgerald is a seasoned trial lawyer who is joining a defense-side firm, it sounds like he won’t be spending much time standing up in court to defend accused criminals. From the Trib:

In an interview, Fitzgerald said he is not interested in defending the sort of accused criminals he once prosecuted, a line of work that many former prosecutors move into after leaving government. Rather, he said, he will focus on corporate investigations, an increasingly lucrative area for law firms.

“I’m not changing who I am,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m just changing who my client is.”

Fitzgerald worked as a federal prosecutor for almost twenty-five years — 13 years as an assistant U.S. attorney in New York, followed by almost 11 years as U.S. Attorney in Chicago — and handled very complex cases. So it makes sense that he’s going into internal investigations. He’s used to getting to the bottom of huge messes and finding out what really happened.

And law firm attorneys conducting internal investigations are not unlike prosecutors working a case (except the law firm attorneys can charge sushi to the client — well, sometimes). Companies often share some of the results of these investigations with the government in the course of working out a settlement. It’s natural work for Fitzgerald to take on — and he’d have lots of credibility when dealing with government lawyers or regulators.

As David Zornow, global head of Skadden’s Litigation/Controversy practices, told the National Law Journal, “Pat Fitzgerald is a nationally known lawyer who is respected all over the country and is an obvious choice for our corporate clients when they are considering hiring a lawyer for a sensitive and complicated matter…. [I]n situations where you want somebody who is a terrific lawyer and has an indisputable reputation for integrity and independence, Pat Fitzgerald is going to be someone turned to frequently.”

Of course, many major firms do investigatory work. Why Skadden? Fitzgerald cited Skadden’s international orientation, his comfort with his future colleagues, and the opportunities to do pro bono work there.

It’s interesting that Fitzgerald didn’t go with a Chicago-centric firm, as some prior U.S. attorneys in the Northern District have (e.g., Dan Webb at Winston & Strawn, Anton Valukas at Jenner & Block, and Scott Lassar at Sidley & Austin). But Skadden makes perfect sense. It has a sizable Chicago presence, with about 170 lawyers in the Windy City, but a huge international footprint as well. So Pat Fitzgerald, while still conflicted out of certain Northern District of Illinois matters, can work on cases all over the country (or even all over the world; think FCPA work).

The firm has fared well in recent years in terms of hiring high-profile lawyers out of the public sector. For example, back in 2010, Skadden snagged outgoing White House counsel Gregory Craig. Craig went with Skadden instead of returning to his former firm, Williams & Connolly.

According to the Tribune, “Skadden’s access to corporate chieftains and boards of directors will make it easier for Fitzgerald to build an investigations practice. Scandal is big business for the country’s biggest law firms.” And big business spells big paychecks. As noted by the Tribune, Fitzgerald earned $155,000 as U.S. Attorney, while Skadden’s profits per partner in 2011 clocked in at just under $2.5 million, according to the American Lawyer.

Congratulations to Patrick Fitzgerald on his new professional perch, and congratulations to Skadden on its hiring coup. Skadden is already one of the nation’s most-feared firms for litigation, and hiring Pat Fitzgerald will help keep it that way.

Fitzgerald joins Skadden’s Chicago office [Chicago Tribune]
After high-profile public career, fed prosecutor Fitzgerald joining Skadden [National Law Journal]
Former U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald Joins Skadden’s Chicago Office [Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom (press release)]

Earlier: Musical Chairs: Patrick Fitzgerald Steps Down As U.S. Attorney
Which Biglaw Firms Are The Most Feared In Litigation?
Musical Chairs: Gregory Craig from Williams & Connolly to Skadden (via the White House)

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