Election Season Means It’s Time for BigLaw to Raid Talent From the G
From: New York Law Journal
By Jenna Greene and Matthew Huisman
To law firms, a presidential election means more than debates and conventions and bumper stickers. It’s also a chance to acquire talent.
The revolving door between law firms and the federal government is always spinning, but every four years it speeds up as top lawyers in politically appointed posts are either forced out by a change in administration or burn out after stints in public service.
With their freshly burnished insider sheens, these lawyers can put a ho-hum practice on the map — and the sagging economy has done little to dampen their appeal. “Demand at the high end for top-level talent is as strong as it’s ever been, or even more,” said legal recruiter Jeffrey Lowe of Major, Lindsey & Africa, though he added that firms nowadays are less enthusiastic about hiring lawyers who held midlevel posts — the associate deputy assistant secretary types.
Covington & Burling partner John Veroneau agreed. “There is always strong demand for people in senior government posts, especially in areas with a lot of activity,” he said.
In the first half of the year, big law firms picked up at least 50 partners from various government agencies, according to ALM Legal Intelligence data, bolstering their white-collar, litigation, corporate and securities and lobbying practices. Health care, privacy and intellectual property are also hot areas.
Still, firms tend to be inherently cautious about making job offers. “Attorneys coming out of the government do not come with a book of business,” said Jordan Abshire, managing member of Abshire Legal Search. “Typically, leadership within the firm has identified a number of existing firm clients who could benefit from the lateral’s expertise.”
Another way firms hedge their bets is by gravitating toward former law firm partners who have a track record of business development, according to consultant Lisa Smith of Fairfax Associates. Hiring a lawyer who has only worked in government is “a crap shoot,” she said.
“We know many people don’t turn into business generators, and may end up as service partners,” said recruiter Cynthia Sitcov of Sitcov Director. “But in some cases, the ability to generate business is not so important.”
Legal public relations expert Elizabeth Lampert also warned that firms “need to be aware of how the agency attorney performed, what issues they were involved with and how that has impacted the firm’s current clients and their interests.”
While some leading lawyers like Andrew Schilling, a former civil division chief in the New York U.S. attorney’s office who went to BuckleySandler, or Mary Ellen Callahan, who stepped down as the chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security to launch Jenner & Block’s privacy practice, have already departed, many prize picks remain.
Based on interviews with legal recruiters, law firm marketers and firm managers as well as independent research, The National Law Journal has identified a dozen government lawyers who are most likely to be sought after in the private sector.