Another Year of Spins Though the Revolving Door
Each year, without fail, some of the best litigators in private practice leave big firm life for government service. Likewise, high-level government lawyers get invitations to join law firms, usually to defend the sorts of cases they once prosecuted. The phenomenon has plenty of vocal critics, who say it fosters a too-cozy relationship between regulators and their would-be targets. The practice also has its defenders, who claim it allows top talent to flourish both in and out of government.
Manhattan U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, a former federal prosecutor himself who's not known to go easy on what he sees as lax government enforcement, recently downplayed the impact of the revolving door in an essay for The New York Review of Books. Rakoff maintains that the revolving door played little, if any, role in the paucity of prosecutions stemming from the financial crisis. He writes that "whatever small influence the 'revolving door' may have in discouraging certain white-collar prosecutions is more than offset, at least in the case of prosecuting high-level individuals, by the career-making benefits such prosecutions confer on the successful prosecutor."
Whatever your take on the issue, there's no ignoring that the door is spinning faster than ever, and the merry-go-round is sure to continue this year. Below are some of the boldest of the bold-face names that took a turn in 2013.
Topping the list this year is Mary Jo White, who left her senior perch at Debevoise & Plimpton to become the chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission after being nominated by President Obama in January. White brought on her longtime Debevoise deputy, Andrew Ceresney, to help head the commission's enforcement unit. The pair since have been pushing for admissions of wrongdoing in some securities fraud cases—a notable departure from the Commission's longtime practice of allowing defendants to settle without confirming or denying guilt. Their first target: Philip Falcone and his hedge fund, Harbinger Capital Partners, who made admissions as part of their $18 million agreement with the SEC to settle claims including market manipulation. As the Litigation Daily's Susan Beck reported, Harbinger was a Debevoise client. Revolving door affect be damned.
After leaving his post as the enforcement chief at the SEC last January, Robert Khuzami joined Kirkland & Ellis in July as a partner in the firm's government, regulatory, and internal investigations practice. According to DealBook, the firm is paying Khuzami guaranteed compensation of $5 million per year during his first two years.
In June, former Federal Trade Commission chair Jon Leibowitz joined Davis Polk & Wardwell's Washington, D.C. office. Leibowitz, who had been an FTC commissioner since 2004 and took on the chair role in 2009, is focusing on antitrust and privacy issues at Davis Polk, his first stint in private practice.
In October, former SEC chief litigation counsel Matthew Martens joined Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr. Martens earned Litigator of the Week honors in August after leading the trial team that won a verdict against former Goldman Sachs trader Fabrice Tourre. A Manhattan jury found Tourre liable on six of seven of the SEC's civil charges, including securities fraud.
Finally, just last month Patricia Millett, the co-head of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld's appellate practice, finally won confirmation of her appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Millett, who has argued 32 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and served in the solicitor general's office during both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, won approval only after the Senate changed its filibuster rules following a bitter confirmation fight.