How Bancroft Became Conservatives' Law Firm of Choice for Hot-Button Cases

Paul Clement and the tiny firm he joined in 2011 have already taken on gay marriage, immigration, health care, voting rights, and redistricting. What's next?

, The American Lawyer

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TAL Dec 2012 Bancroft Paul Clement
Paul Clement

In other ways they could not be more different. Clement, who was raised in the picture-perfect town of Cedarburg, Wisconsin, is low-key, unflappable, unfailingly polite, and speaks in the most carefully crafted, soothingly modulated sentences. Dinh, who has told of escaping communist Vietnam with his family in a small boat, is a live wire: volatile, occasionally loud, and apt to say whatever pops into his head, often accompanied by a boisterous laugh.

Until Clement joined Bancroft, his career followed the more conventional route of government service and big-firm law practice. He spent three years as an associate at Kirkland & Ellis, and had two stints as a partner at King & Spalding before and after his tenure as solicitor general.

Dinh's professional eye is more restless, constantly searching for opportunities. Although he was a summer associate at Munger, Tolles & Olson, he says he didn't consider a big-firm career. "Other people may appreciate structure a lot more than I do. Let's put it that way," he says by way of explanation. He formed Bancroft in 2003 after he left the Justice Department, working out of the basement of his home with two other ex–government lawyers, trying a mix of legal and consulting work. (The firm was named for the street where Dinh then lived.)

Six years after forming Bancroft, Dinh tested another venture. In 2009 he founded Guidepost Investigations, a private investigations firm, along with former Manhattan federal prosecutor Bart Schwartz. But Dinh is no longer active in that venture and retains just a small ownership interest in a successor company. "Viet is very busy these days with his successful and growing practice," says Schwartz. "I wish he had more time for us."

Dinh, who also teaches full-time at Georgetown, has found time to serve on the boards of at least six public and private companies. Most notably, he's been a News Corp. director since 2004. In June he joined the board of Revlon, after serving on the board of another company affiliated with Revlon chairman Ronald Perelman, M&F Holdings. Dinh made $647,675 last year when Perelman bought the rest of M&F Holdings that he didn't already own. On the political front, Dinh served as one of seven national cochairs for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for Romney.

Clement, in contrast, isn't overtly political, and doesn't sit on any boards. His passions, outside of the law and his family, include the Green Bay Packers and bicycling to work. He's found a way to combine both by making his daily commute wearing a bike helmet adorned with a Green Bay logo.

Although Clement has advocated on some of the most charged political cases of our times, he's managed not to appear ideologically driven. David Rivkin of Baker & Hostetler, who represented the challenging states in the earlier stages of the health care litigation, says that's one reason Clement was chosen for the Supreme Court appeal. "While I consider myself a strong conservative, we tried to drive this [litigation] as a nonideological exercise, a nonpartisan exercise," says Rivkin. "He has a reputation for a lack of ideological fervor."

"Paul has very deeply held, strong political and jurisprudential beliefs, but he has never worn them on his sleeve in a way that is offensive to others," says Paul Cappuccio, executive vice president and general counsel of Time Warner Inc., who was an associate with Clement at Kirkland and has known him for years. "He's not a person who puts them in your face." He adds, "In every respect but one he's John Roberts. He's absolutely brilliant. I've seen no one who can stand up in court without a single note and answer articulately any question put to him."

The difference, however, is the type of cases that the chief justice of the Supreme Court handled when he worked in private practice at Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovells). "John by and large kept his powder dry by working on largely very boring commercial cases across the spectrum," Cappuccio explains. "Paul—I admire him for not caring. He's more inclined to take what you have to describe as movement cases."

In September, Dinh gave a talk to students at Harvard Law School as part of its Program on the Legal Profession. He extolled the entrepreneurial nature of working at a boutique firm, but he stressed that his priority remains teaching. "When someone asks me what I do, I say I'm law professor at Georgetown. And that's what defines me and what defines my life's work."

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