With a second Bush administration on its way, the list of available lawyers on local firms’ wish lists is decidedly smaller than it may have been had John Kerry won the election.
But the revolving door between the government and private practice will keep turning regardless, and with that in mind Legal Times asked a number of recruiters and lawyers at D.C.-area law firms who they consider to be the hottest hires and the biggest “gets” among lawyers who may be leaving the administration.
While many were willing to name names when asked about administration officials, they requested anonymity when it came to their own. What follows, then, is a wish list of sorts.
Moving between the government and private practice can promise a big payday for upper-level administration officials. Big names can trade their policy experience and their government contacts for up to six times their government salary.
One agency where it seems administration officials can write their own ticket is the Securities and Exchange Commission. Recruiters say anyone with SEC enforcement experience is considered golden. The top name on most people’s lips is current Director of Enforcement Stephen Cutler.
“Cutler is the man,” says one recruiter. Another says, “He is a slam dunk. Once he decides to move on, everyone will be all over him.”
One recruiter heard that Cutler may be in talks to join the D.C. office of Davis Polk & Wardwell. While Davis Polk only has a small local office for the moment, the firm would bulk up its D.C. presence in order to land him. Other recruiters believe the move would make sense since Cutler’s deputy, Linda Thomsen, was at the firm before she joined the SEC. A Davis Polk spokesman says the firm has no comment.
For his part, Cutler declined to comment on his future plans except to say that he loves what he does.
But if he were to leave, the head of one securities enforcement practice at a D.C. firm says Cutler’s combination of skills — heading the Enforcement Division and his history at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr — make him unique among SEC recruits.
One recruiter puts his salary potential at $1 million plus. And another says he will easily make the top of any firm’s pay scale.
Cutler came into office in October 2001 and confronted a market plagued by corporate scandal, including the collapse of the Enron Corp. As chief of the SEC’s Enforcement Division, he brought an unprecedented number of enforcement actions. He also facilitated the settlement between Wall Street banks and New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer over the banks’ alleged conflicts of interest.
“He has been very visible,” says one recruiter. “So who better to take to your clients than the top cop?”
Running a close second to Cutler is his deputy, Thomsen, an attorney recruiters say is definitely on firms’ wish lists.
“She is probably talked about the most besides Cutler,” says one.
However, the pervading sense is that she may not be ready to move on from the government yet.
In the past few months, the SEC has already experienced a few defections from its ranks as deputies and assistants made the jump into private practice. Most notable was Thomas Newkirk, the associate director of the Enforcement Division, who jumped ship to Jenner & Block, where he will officially begin later this month.
While the future of just-resigned Attorney General John Ashcroft is still a matter of speculation, some local firms have their eye on his deputy, James Comey. Legal Times reported last month that Comey was not a serious candidate to replace Ashcroft because of White House political concerns.