House of 1,000 Lawyers
Washington’s Largest Law Firm Is Also Its Oldest—It Turns 100 This Year. It May Not Have the Richest Partners, But It Has Loyal Ones—and a Very Interesting History.
It was the summer of 1949, and two men who would become Washington legal titans were about to clash.
John Sirica had been a federal prosecutor in the US Attorney's office and was operating a small criminal-defense firm on DC's 15th Street. At 45, he was a respected trial lawyer who had won a high-profile libel case brought against newspaper columnist Walter Winchell.
Edward Bennett Williams was a 29-year-old lawyer at the law firm Hogan & Hartson. His future seemed guaranteed, and not just because he was the best lawyer his age in Washington. He also was married to Dorothy Guider, granddaughter of firm founder Frank Hogan.
The partners that year had a choice to make. After Frank Hogan's death in 1944, the firm was without a top criminal-defense attorney. Hogan's successor as firm leader, Nelson Hartson, decided that only Sirica or Williams could be made partner that year. The firm could not afford to make two partners, and it couldn't have two chiefs of its trial practice.
Sirica would be coming in from the outside. But Williams had not yet been at the firm for the seven years usually required for partnership.
The decision-making became as immersed in family ties as in law-firm politics. One of the firm's partners was Frank Guider—his father was John W. "Duke" Guider, who had married Hogan's daughter. According to The Man to See, Evan Thomas's biography of Edward Bennett Williams, Duke Guider was so enamored of Ed Williams that his son, Frank, came to hate his brother-in-law.
Frank Guider's dislike of Williams prevailed. Sirica was made a partner.
Williams angrily quit. He went on to found his own law firm with Paul Connolly, a colleague from Hogan & Hartson, and Williams & Connolly would go on to become one of the nation's best-known law firms. Williams would at various times own the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Redskins and become an influential leader of the Democratic Party.
Sirica was appointed to the federal bench eight years later. His integrity and common sense helped him to almost single-handedly unravel the complex web of Watergate and led to the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.
Thus the Hogan & Hartson decision to not make Ed Williams a partner was a pivotal moment in legal history. If Williams had stayed, Hogan & Hartson might have become as famous as Williams & Connolly. And Sirica might never have become the famous Watergate judge.
Hogan & Hartson has some consolation prizes. With more than 1,000 lawyers worldwide—and some 460 in DC—it is now Washington's largest law firm. Former partners like David Tatel and John Roberts are important federal judges. One partner, John Keeney, is president of the District of Columbia Bar Association. Another, E. Tazewell Ellett, is president of the Virginia Bar Association.
During the Clinton administration, Hogan lawyer Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger guided foreign policy in the White House as the firm spread into international hot spots like China and Eastern Europe.
Surrounded by better-known competitors like Covington & Burling, Arnold & Porter, and Williams & Connolly, Hogan & Hartson is the quiet giant of Washington law.
Rivals in Washington law admit that they don't know what to make of Hogan & Hartson. "When you think of litigation, you think of Williams & Connolly," says a prominent lawyer. "For regulatory matters, it's Covington & Burling. Lobbying is Akin Gump or Patton Boggs. Telecommunications, it's Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. You don't think of Hogan first for anything."
Such talk seems inexplicable to the Hogan & Hartson partners inside their I.M. Pei-designed headquarters at 13th and F streets. Says firm chair Warren Gorrell, a lanky Princetonian, "I can't believe that's the case."
There is no arguing that Hogan & Hartson has charged into the 21st century. Hogan attorneys are spreading out over the world like the colored squares in a game of Risk. After decades in which it was the third-biggest firm in town, Hogan has now solidified its hold on the top spot.
It is the only Washington firm that now has more lawyers based outside of Washington than in. Hogan & Hartson's worldwide practice plays key roles in projects from Brazil to Bangladesh. Its attorneys planned the rebuilding of much of Eastern Europe and guided the writing of a new constitution in Afghanistan.
Hogan & Hartson has declared its founding date to be 1904. That is the year Frank Hogan quit his job as counsel for the War Department and with an investment of $200 hung his shingle at 918 F Street, Northwest. Hogan's 1,000 lawyers plan to converge in November at the Doral Golf Resort in Miami to celebrate the firm's centennial.
Founding partner Frank Hogan was the preeminent lawyer of his day. According to a firm history by Lester Cohen, Hogan could walk into a courtroom without notes and recite passages from memos and letters verbatim. He had a lisp, a handicap he would win the affection of juries by acknowledging. He often would move from "point two" to "point four" and tell the jury it was "because I can't pronounce thwee."
Hogan, then a plaintiff's attorney, was especially good at winning negligence suits against Capital Traction, operator of the Washington trolley system. He was so good that Capital Traction hired him so he'd stop suing the company. Hogan's firm defended Capital Traction against lawsuits for the next 50 years, until the trolleys stopped rolling in 1962.
In 1918, Hogan hired a Spanish-American War veteran, William H. Donovan, who took over most of the legal work for client Riggs Bank. In 1924, Hogan, Donovan, and a lawyer named Nubby Jones were joined by three new partners: Hogan son-in-law John W. "Duke" Guider, Arthur J. Phelan, and Nelson Hartson.
Hartson was a native of Washington state. After World War I he had become a city attorney for Seattle. He came to the nation's capital in 1922 when he was appointed assistant solicitor of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (now the IRS) by President Harding.
Hartson and Hogan first met in Los Angeles, where both men were arguing cases. Hogan's reputation was such that young lawyers often stopped in to listen to his arguments in court. Hartson introduced himself after observing Hogan work in a federal courtroom. The two had lunch, and Hogan offered Hartson a job.
Edward Doheny became Hogan's most famous client. Doheny was living in a small California apartment in 1893 when he smelled fumes coming up from the floor. He raised some money, bought some picks and axes, built a derrick, and discovered oil, setting off the Southern California oil boom. By 1924, he was one of the richest men in America. Then came an investigation into the granting of federal oil leases. For his role in what came to be known as the Teapot Dome scandal, Doheny was indicted for allegedly paying a $100,000 bribe to Albert Fall, President Harding's Interior secretary.
In 1930, Hogan won acquittal for Doheny by convincing the jury that the payment was not a bribe but a "free loan." Doheny thanked Hogan with a $1,000,000 check. Then later, at a birthday dinner in honor of Hogan's wife, Doheny handed her a check for $51,000—a grand for each of her years.
In 1938 Hogan decided to turn his firm into a partnership and to shorten the name. Hogan & Donovan sounded too Irish. Hogan & Guider made it sound like a family operation. Hogan & Hartson had alliteration and no drawbacks. It became the name that endured.
By the beginning of the Second World War, Hogan & Hartson was Washington's most prominent local law firm. In addition to Riggs Bank and Capital Traction, the firm handled the legal work for Garfinckel's, Woodward & Lothrop, the C&P Telephone Company, and Potomac Electric Power Company. Its lawyers also represented the Evening Star newspaper and the Mayflower Hotel, where FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had lunch every day. Covington & Burling was the city's biggest firm, but Hogan had the city's key clients—the evening newspaper, the power company, the retail establishments, the phone company.
Frank Hogan was one of the city's most prominent men. He lived with his wife, Mamie, at 2320 Massachusetts Avenue, in a mansion designed for Harry Wardman, the builder of many Kalorama houses. Hogan had one of the nation's most important collections of rare books and manuscripts.
Hogan often recited passages from Shakespeare, Keats, and Milton. He was Washington's most prominent patron of the arts, a mainstay at Washington Senators baseball games, and an enthusiastic supporter of Georgetown University sports.
The Hogan home, now the Korean Embassy, was an oasis for Hogan's California friends and clients like Lillian Gish, Gertrude Lawrence, and Beatrice Lillie.
For all his power, Hogan heard little of the praise that came his way. By his late fifties, he had lost most of his hearing. At the urging of friends, he was fitted for a hearing aid. But out of vanity he could not bring himself to use it.
Then doctors diagnosed Hogan as suffering from Parkinson's disease. In 1944, at the age of 67, he died.
The firm that had reconstituted itself in 1938 with seven lawyers still had just ten. In the 1940s, that was a good-sized law firm. Hartson, a tax lawyer, took over management of Hogan & Hartson, and he was committed to growth. By 1949, the firm had 14 partners, including John Sirica.
In the 1950s, new competitors to Hogan & Hartson's legal supremacy came onto the scene. Arnold, Fortas & Porter, begun in 1945, was a powerhouse led by legal legends Thurman Arnold and Abe Fortas. It litigated such landmarks of constitutional law as Gideon v. Wainwright, the case that established every American's right to be represented by counsel. Abe Fortas, who argued for inmate Gideon, would be named to the US Supreme Court in 1965.
Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering appeared on the scene in 1962, with the then-revolutionary concept that a Washington practice could attract clients with its lobbying services and win their corporate work as well. Lloyd Cutler, the genius behind the firm, remains a legal legend.
Covington & Burling exemplified slow growth and Southern gentility. After Frank Hogan's death, Covington had become the largest firm in Washington. Ed Burling and Harry Covington had joined forces in 1919; by the mid-1960s, the firm had grown to 85 lawyers. The most prominent partner, and in many ways the architect of the firm's growth, was Dean Acheson, who had succeeded George Marshall as secretary of State in the Truman administration.
Covington was the land of liverwurst sandwiches, starched white shirts, and bowler hats. Secretaries didn't chew gum or carry lighted cigarettes, as Joseph Goulden wrote in The Washingtonian in 1971. When it came to representing clients before Washington's bureaucracy, especially the Food and Drug Administration, Covington had no peer. The firm didn't mess with the local power company. And no task seemed beyond its power: In 1947 it was hired by the Iranian ambassador to present the case to the United Nations for getting the Russians out of Iran, which it did successfully.
Firms like Covington & Burling made partners the old-fashioned way. They would hire bright talent from the top law schools and put them to work. After about seven years, a young lawyer would be eligible for partnership. Once a partner, a lawyer was set for life.
But at seven years, it was up or out. There was no such thing as an eighth-year associate. Of maybe a dozen associates who started in the same year, one or two might make partner at Covington. The rest were destined for government work or, if they were imaginative enough, to hang out their own shingles. There was no otherway to become a partner at Covington &Burling.
Hogan & Hartson did business a different way, a way considered radical at the time. The firm always had been willing to bring in an older man who had important experience on the outside. In the law, this was "lateral hiring." Even as late as the 1960s, raiding other law firms was considered a taboo in what was a gentleman's club. Covington & Burling never would have considered hiring a man like John Sirica, a former boxer whose combative nature carried over into the courtroom.
Hogan & Hartson never had any qualms about lateral hiring. When Hartson decided the firm needed to strengthen its tax practice in 1946, he brought in Seymour Mintz, the former head of the Internal Revenue Commission.
When E. Barrett Prettyman Jr. joined Hogan in 1963, he was only the 29th person to become partner. Prettyman was the son of one of Washington's most illustrious barristers. E. Barrett Prettyman Sr. had been a prominent local attorney and judge. In 1955, the US District Courthouse would be named after him.
A graduate of St. Albans, the younger Prettyman landed on Omaha Beach shortly after D-Day. He was a sniper scout for the 9th Army's 84th Infantry. During the siege of Ardennes, Prettyman's feet were damaged in the northern European winter. After the war he enrolled at Yale.
Prettyman's dream was to become a journalist, but after suffering the wages paid at the Providence Journal, he decided to go to the University of Virginia Law School, where he became friends with classmate Robert F. Kennedy. When John Kennedy became president, Prettyman got a job as a White House lawyer.
After the Bay of Pigs invasion, President Kennedy asked Prettyman to negotiate the release of 1,113 Bay of Pigs invaders with Cuban leader Fidel Castro. In doing so, he got a tour of Ernest Hemingway's Cuban mansion led by Castro himself.
In 1963 Hogan & Hartson's longtime client Pillsbury became embroiled in an antitrust suit—the government accused the company of violating the Clayton Antitrust Act by acquiring two competitors.
Nelson Hartson approached Prettyman about representing Pillsbury in court. The hiring of Prettyman illustrated the different approach Hogan & Hartson took to representing clients. It got the business, then went out and found the attorneys who could do the job. Prettyman won the case for Pillsbury with a ruling that helped establish the company as a baking giant.
Despite such work, Hogan was still thought of as a local law firm—the attorneys for Woodies and Garfinckel's. Hogan & Hartson lacked a strong leader who could attract clients and top young law grads. To lawyers inside the firm, the lack of a dictatorial leader was a blessing.
"The modern firm of Hogan & Hartson was not built on a single individual," says Warren Gorrell, chair of the firm today. "It was not hierarchical but had a strong democratic sense. No one tells anyone else what to do, but this was not a problem or a weakness; it was our strength."
Ifthe Covington lawyer was proper and reserved, the Hogan lawyer was outgoing and approachable. In addition to Prettyman, Hogan hired a young prosecutor, John Warner, who would become Secretary of the Navy and then US senator from Virginia. Warner was one of many UVa law grads hired by the firm. Williams & Connolly was known for its Georgetown men, Covington for its Harvard grads, and Hogan for its UVa ties.
But Hogan lagged behind its rivals in attracting top law-school grads and Supreme Court clerks. And since Sirica's departure in 1957 to become a judge, it had lacked a first-rate white-collar defense practice.
To remedy that problem, Hogan & Hartson in 1967 hired William Bittman, who had prosecuted former Lyndon Johnson aide Bobby Baker, who was defended by Edward Bennett Williams. In a highly publicized case, Baker had been charged with tax evasion and fraud. At the end of the trial, Williams gave one of the most spellbinding arguments ever delivered to a Washington jury.
When he was done, Bittman stood up. "You have just heard the greatest argument by the country's greatest lawyer," Bittman said. "All I have is the facts."
Baker was convicted and served 16 months in prison.
Bittman's hiring figured to propel Hogan & Hartson to greatness. But it did not go as planned. After the Watergate break-in in 1972, Bittman was hired by accused Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt, the former CIA operative who along with G. Gordon Liddy had put together the break-in.
Bittman's fee arrangement with Hunt turned out to be unusual, involving picking up large stashes of cash in telephone booths. The Watergate Special Prosecutor's Office would later accuse Bittman of distributing money for lawyer's fees among the Watergate defendants in exchange for their silence. The judge in that case was John Sirica. It was emblematic of Hogan's breadth that the law firm's men, past and present, would find themselves in legal combat.
Bittman's activities on behalf of Hunt didn't end with the questions about fees. Hunt eventually sued both Bittman and Hogan & Hartson for malpractice, alleging that Hogan & Hartson attorneys had counseled him to perjure himself and made "misrepresentations" that resulted in his being jailed by Sirica on March 23, 1973. The case ultimately was dismissed for not having been filed on time, but Hogan partners asked Bittman to leave in 1974. One partner called it the worst scandal in Hogan history. Another observed of Bittman's departure, "I wouldn't say he was fired, just that he left after he got the picture that we felt he had made a misjudgment."
With Vietnam and Watergate dominating the headlines, and counterculture sentiment strong among students, Hogan was one of the first law firms to embrace the ideas of the Ralph Nader-inspired public-interest movement.
Young lawyers had more on their minds than money. Top recruits were asking firms like Hogan about "pro bono" work—projects that lawyers could do for free for good causes or indigent clients. To accommodate their concerns, almost all big firms had pro bono policies. Attorneys were allowed to work on pro bono cases, but usually on their own time and not at the expense of their billable hours.
But in 1969, Hogan & Hartson partners voted to take things a step further. As retired partner Sara-Ann Determan recalls, the partners were sitting around one day trying to figure out what they could do to satisfy the demands of the young lawyers. "Finally somebody asked what we do if there was pressure to start an admiralty practice," Determan says. "We thought, well, we would go out and hire the best admiralty guy we could and tell him to go out and build a practice.
"There was a wonderful silence. We all realized that was exactly what we should do."
Hogan decided to invest in a community-services department. It enticed a Harvard professor, John Ferren, to come to DC to run it. Ferren was running a neighborhood legal program in Boston and was well known in the pro bono community.
The idea of working for a corporate firm was anathema to Ferren, who tossed the Hogan letter proposing the idea into the trash. Ferren's wife retrieved the letter and suggested that he go to Washington for an interview. After being persuaded of the partners' sincerity, he took the job, coming into Hogan as a partner.
"We wanted him to be a full partner to demonstrate to associates what our level of commitment was," says Determan.
For decades, Hogan & Hartson would pour millions of dollars worth of partner and associate time into such causes as desegregating the Prince George's County school system, fighting the Nixon administration's efforts to close the Office of Economic Opportunity, and working on behalf of Indian tribes in Maine. Hogan's Community Services Division did important work for the poor, elderly, and sick. A lot of pro bono time in the 1980s was spent helping patients with AIDS write wills.
In a largely hidebound profession, Hogan had turned itself over to a generation committed to change. Ferren's program was so successful that in 1974 the onetime legal-services guru was made managing partner of the firm.
To replace Ferren as head of pro bono services, the firm sought out David Tatel, who had run a legal-services program in Chicago and then headed the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Tatel was excited about the prospect. With the resources of Hogan & Hartson, he could do more. One problem: Tatel was in the middle stages of retinitis pigmentosa—he was going blind. "When I came to the firm, I was losing my sight," Tatel recalls. "But it didn't seem to bother anybody. They just asked me what I would need."
Recalls Sara-Ann Determan, "We hired a reader for him and told him if he needed any special equipment, that was fine. That was about it."
Tatel proved one of the firm's outstanding lawyers, becoming chair of the firm's education practice, mostly representing colleges and universities. President Clinton named Tatel to the seat on the US Court of Appeals for DC vacated by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who went to the Supreme Court. Tatel is often mentioned as a Supreme Court possibility in a Democratic administration.
The firm's forward thinking was manifest in other areas, too. In 1975, Determan became the firm's first female partner. In 1980, her youngest son, nine-year-old Steven Michael Determan, was diagnosed with leukemia. Large law firms at the time were known to seize on excuses to get rid of female lawyers. But for 3H years, while she dealt with her son's fatal illness, Determan recalls, she received only support from Hogan & Hartson.
One of Hogan & Hartson's key acquisitions in the 1970s was former 14-term congressman Paul Rogers. As chairman of the key House subcommittee on health and the environment, he had written many pieces of legislation, then gone into private practice to advise clients on how to comply with the laws he'd written, particularly the clean-air and -water acts.
Unlike the stereotypical former member of Congress who mostly wines and dines clients, Rogers threw himself into the law. Around the firm he was known as "Mr. Health."
Another new force at the firm was Allen Snyder, who arrived in 1972 after clerking for Justice William Rehnquist. He built the education practice that David Tatel would inherit. Snyder racked up millions of dollars in fees representing the Kansas City, Missouri, school district in a case challenging a state law that restricted the city's ability to assess taxes to support the school system. When the US Supreme Court upheld a lower-court ruling favoring Snyder's position in Missouri v. Jenkins, his place in legal history was assured. Snyder was also an ace litigator. One of his clients was actress Elizabeth Taylor, for whom he successfully blocked an ABC-produced docudrama of her life. Later he became the chief corporate attorney for Netscape, representing the Internet company in antitrust actions against Microsoft.
Through the work of Tatel, Rogers, and Snyder, health and education became Hogan's trademark specialties.
But as heavyweights like Ed Williams and Lloyd Cutler took on high-profile cases that commanded headlines, the perception inside the legal world was that Hogan was soft. Education and health clients were important—drug-company clients like Merck and Eli Lilly were very profitable—but those practice areas weren't considered as prestigious as, say, Covington's international work or Arnold & Porter's groundbreaking Supreme Court cases.
In the mergers-and-acquisitions arena, Arnold & Porter and Wilmer Cutler had gotten the jump on Hogan & Hartson. And even with Paul Rogers as "Mr. Health," Covington's Peter Barton Hutt was the lawyer to call when it came to suing or petitioning the Food and Drug Administration. Hogan & Hartson seemed to be drifting into a legal no-man's land. With partners' profits now in the public record, lawyers could see how much better they could do if they left. Law firms could unravel quickly. If one rainmaker left with a briefcase full of clients, others might follow. If a firm showed softness at the bottom line, nobody wanted to be last out the door.
At Hogan & Hartson, most partners saw little risk. Warren Gorrell, who would become chairman, insists that an implosion at Hogan was "never a concern" because firm loyalty always trumped money. In 1983 an insurance litigator named Stuart Ross, who had been at the firm for 17 years, walked out with a large portfolio of clients. That was a singular event until recently, when 15 lawyers from Hogan's Paris office left to join another firm. Still, says Gorrell, "The hallmark of our firm has always been that our partners don't leave."
Not everyone shares Gorrell's version of Hogan's history: A 1987 article Legal Times asked whether the firm had "lost its soul" and said that Hogan had been engulfed in "torpor."
For decades, Hogan & Hartson had been loosely run by a five-member executive committee that rotated three-year terms.
But in an increasingly cutthroat legal market of the 1970s, Hogan & Hartson needed leadership. The firm would turn to a disciple of one of the most powerful political leaders of the 20th century.
Bob Glen Odle was a native of McKinney, Texas, just down the road from Bonham, the hometown of Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the House during the 1950s and '60s. In the early '60s Odle came to Washington to work for Rayburn. It wasn't always fun; Rayburn had a temper. Odle was following close behind him one day when the Speaker strode into the House chamber, threw a temper tantrum at the disorderliness on the floor, and slammed his gavel down so hard it flew across the chamber, nearly hitting a member of the opposition.
Odle became schooled in Washington politics and got to know many House leaders, such as tax-committee chairman Wilbur Mills. After leaving Washington to go to the University of Texas School of Law, Odle returned in 1966 to take a job as an associate at Hogan & Hartson.
A decade later, Hogan's rotating executive committee seemed a liability for a fast-growing law firm. It needed a partner who could run the firm. Odle seemed to be a strategic thinker with good political instincts. When his three-year term on the executive committee ended in 1977, Hogan partners didn't want to lose him. Ferren left the firm that year to become corporation counsel for the District of Columbia; later he would become a judge on the local appeals court. Odle was asked to become "administrative partner," a position he would hold under different titles for the next two decades.
The other big leaders of Washington law—Ed Williams, Lloyd Cutler, and Thurman Arnold—were great attorneys who made national reputations for themselves. Bob Glen Odle never achieved their legal fame. "He was a hugely important figure," says former partner Sandy Berger. "He was the least-known big-firm manager in the country."
Odle realized in the 1980s that law firms had to grow or risk being taken over by larger competitors. Odle was determined that Hogan & Hartson would survive.
It started with baby steps—opening offices in Northern Virginia, Baltimore, and suburban Maryland to take advantage of the high-tech boom. Within a few years, Odle had nearly 40 attorneys at the Reston office. Before he was done, Odle would make Hogan & Hartson strong again.
He was an "exceptionally good administrator," says partner Janet McDavid. "He was a consensus builder who managed to do things without ruffling feathers. He was charming and universally liked." Odle could have the job for life if he wanted it.
"You had two choices," says Odle, now retired, in his old office overlooking Hogan's headquarters at 13th and F streets. With his white mustache and Texas drawl, Odle resembled one of those grouchy but lovable heroes of TV westerns. "You could get big or you could die… . But a lawyer cannot be fulfilled by how much money he makes."
Odle realized that size provided the ability to handle larger and more complex transactions. Law firms had to be able to throw bodies at a representation. Technology, intranets, and the cost of electronic libraries dictated that costs be shared among as many partners as possible. The more ways you could divide costs, the more efficient you would become. The cost of being small was prohibitive.
Odle was determined that Hogan & Hartson would not share the fate of Danzansky Dickey or Verner Liipfert or dozens of other venerable Washington firms whose names are now footnotes in legal directories.
If you could become large enough, out-of-town firms would think twice before attempting to lure away your partners. The law business was changing: Headhunters were sweeping up the big earners and redirecting them to firms where they could keep more of their money.
No more would law-firm compensation be based largely on seniority and a notion that it was ungentlemanly to ask about money.
An ew magazine, The American Lawyer, changed all that. Its annual revenue and profits survey became its best-read feature. By the early 1980s, it had begun to reveal the huge profits being made by New York firms like Cravath, Swaine & Moore, Cahill Gordon, and Wachtell Lipton, whose partners were making $1 million a year.
The top partner draws in Washington were a pittance by comparison. Attorneys at Arnold & Porter, Covington & Burling, and Hogan & Hartson, where more-traditional legal work was done, rarely made more than $300,000. Leading law-firm consultants considered Washington practice "second tier."
Partners in Los Angeles firms were making nearly $600,000 a year. When Ronald Reagan came to Washington in 1980, several LA firms, including Reagan's personal favorite, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, came with him. Gibson Dunn partner William French Smith became Reagan's attorney general after moving to Washington to open up Gibson Dunn's office here.
Faced with the choice of joining these lucrative out-of-state practices or continuing to work for far less money, many Washington lawyers opted to sell their shops and become departments of the larger firms. It was Odle's task to keep Hogan & Hartson together. He imbued the firm with an esprit de corps that he hoped could overcome the impulse of always looking for the top dollar. Much of his time was devoted to building cohesiveness and loyalty. Hogan couldn't charge the big fees of the New York firms—clients in Washington wouldn't pay that much. Extra care was given to new hires. The firm had an unwritten rule that no "screamers" would be admitted to partnership.
To enhance the firm's prestige, Odle brought in J. William Fulbright. The courtly former senator from Arkansas, whose opposition to the Vietnam War had made him famous, was a powerful presence, though he was not pressured to bring in clients or bill hours. Nearly every day at lunch, Fulbright would hold forth in the office cafeteria. What young associate wouldn't want to spend two hours soaking up the wisdom of one of the country's most legendary political figures?
After Fulbright died in 1995 at the age of 89, a plaque was placed above his chair: WHERE SO MANY WONDERFUL AND HISTORIC LUNCHES WERE HELD DISCUSSING EVENTS OF THE DAY, LARGE AND SMALL, SERIOUS AND MUNDANE, TRAGIC AND COMIC.
Though Hogan wasn't as profitable as some firms, its earnings were steady. Partners' earnings were not likely to jump dramatically, but they didn't have to worry about bad years. Partner compensation at law firms is determined by taking gross revenue and subtracting overhead, including associates' salaries. What is left over is divided among the partners, not necessarily evenly. A compensation committee awards shares on the basis of longevity and business development as well as hours billed.
If attorneys at Hogan & Hartson made less than at other places, there was a perception that Hogan lawyers weren't driven to bill the almost inhuman hours demanded at a firm like Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, whose managing partner was said to drive past the building at midnight every weekend just to see whose offices were lit.
Says a Hogan partner: "We have a breakfast meeting every Tuesday, and when we interview someone, we would think to ourselves, if we can't stomach eating with that person, we aren't going to hire them. No matter how good they are and how much business they have, they aren't coming here."
The highest-grossing practice in Washington during the early 1990s, according to The American Lawyer, was Covington & Burling, which ranked 49th. Arnold & Porter was 52nd, Hogan 55th. But when you divided the gross by the number of partners, none of the firms in Washington came close to being in the nation's top 100.
If Hogan was to carve out a new legal identify for the 1980s and 1990s, what would it be? The department stores, Woodies and Garfinckel's, were sold or on their last legs. The firm's legacy of retail work would continue through its client Mills Corporation, which owned Potomac Mills and other discount malls. The firm also had a history of representing foreign businesses like Toyota USA and Mercedes-Benz and foreign governments such as Japan.
In 1973 a bright new associate had come to Hogan because his best friend, Allen Snyder, was there. The associate was Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger. He had been working on the staff of Senator Harold Hughes of Iowa.
For four years, Berger worked on wills and estate cases for Hogan. Then in 1977 he wangled a job in the new Jimmy Carter administration on the policy-planning staff at the State Department.
In 1981, after Carter was defeated for reelection, Berger, then 36, returned to Hogan & Hartson, but with a new focus on international matters. Berger was determined to lead the firm to international prominence. He discerned that though the firm had foreign clients, it lacked an international practice that would represent clients on complex trade matters or work on behalf of clients to open new markets.
Berger believed he had seen the future, and it was global. Along with partner Gerald Gilbert, Berger began pressuring Odle to open an office in Europe. This was a departure for a firm that had always defined itself as the dominant Washington firm.
Hogan's big break came in 1989 after the communist government of Poland fell. Through a fortuitous series of connections, a Hogan partner, Joe Bell, was notified that the finance minister of Poland was looking for an American law firm that could help Poland make the adjustment from a socialist to a capitalist economy.
Bell grabbed Sandy Berger and partner Arthur Rothkopf and headed for Warsaw, their briefcases filled with Hogan & Hartson brochures. In Warsaw they took a taxi to the old finance ministry, an antiquated building in which the finance minister did his own photocopying.
The minister immediately threw the three legal troubadours a curve ball. "He picked up the brochure," Berger remembers, "and said, 'This is very impressive, especially the part on page 18 about your pro bono department.' "
Even if Poland didn't want to be a paying customer, the opportunity was too tempting to pass up, says Berger. "We chuckled to ourselves and threw ourselves into the project," cycling it through the firm's community-development practice. "We did it because it was an exciting moment in history," says Berger. "And if we didn't get the job first, there were other firms circling around."
Ultimately Hogan's involvement with Poland's finance ministry attracted paying business elsewhere, so the gambit paid off. One of the practice's biggest cases was defending Polish steel mills against accusations of dumping cheap steel into Asian markets.
The success in Warsaw was followed by a similar experience in Czechoslovakia, a project headed by a partner of Czech descent, Raymond Batla Jr. In rapid succession Hogan & Hartson opened offices in London, Brussels, and Paris, then expanded to Beijing and Tokyo.
On the day the Berlin Wall fell, Berger and Arthur Rothkopf, now president of Lafayette College, were in Warsaw. Rothkopf remembers that the Poles were not enthusiastic about the reunification of Germany. They had been counting on the West Germans to finance the rebuilding of the Polish economy. The reunification of Germany meant that West German resources would have to go to rebuilding East Germany. As the European Community solidified, Hogan lawyers became key conduits between Washington and Europe.
For 20 years, Sandy Berger had been friends with a young man he had worked with on the 1972 presidential campaign of George McGovern. Ten months older than Bill Clinton, Berger often picked up the phone and encouraged his friend to run for president.
In 1992, when Clinton was elected president, he made Berger deputy leader of the transition team behind Warren Christopher, who would become Secretary of State. Berger became deputy national-security director under Anthony Lake. Berger could have used his friendship with Clinton to get a higher position, but his instincts told him to be patient, that his day would come. In 1996 Berger would become national-security adviser and the administration's most important foreign-policy adviser, shaping the conduct of the war in Kosovo as well as being Clinton's point man in the growing war against terrorism.
In Washington, Berger's increasing influence in the world didn't need to be promoted. On the day Clinton took office, Odle sent a memo to every partner. No one was to contact Berger on any matter, for any reason. Berger says no one ever did.
But Hogan didn't need to remind clients—and potential clients—that one of its partners was now America's most powerful foreign-policy adviser.
Be rger is again at Hogan & Hartson, now as a consultant, not a partner. He lists himself as "international strategic adviser" to the law firm. He notes that when he left Hogan in 1992, it had 450 attorneys. When he returned in 2000, it had twice as many.
"One of two things happened," jokes Berger. "Either it took 450 people to replace me, or I was an albatross around the neck of the firm, and once I left, it took off."
Berger's current value to his former partners has been thrown into doubt by revelations that he took classified documents out to the National Archives while he prepared testimony for the commission investigating the events of September 11, 2001. It's interesting to note that, when it came time to hire a defense lawyer, Berger turned to Lanny Breuer of Covington & Burling.
Berger's prominence in the Democratic Party and his current legal troubles do not affect the firm's ability to work both sides of the political fence. The new reality of Washington law is that any firm wanting to do business has to be able to dance both right and left. In 1995 the firm brought in former Republican House minority leader Bob Michel. A longtime partner at Hogan & Hartson was Nevadan Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and later creator of the American Gaming Association, whose members own the big casinos. When Clinton nominated Hogan partner Christine Varney to the Federal Trade Commission, Fahrenkopf helped persuade Republican senators to confirm her despite her previous position as deputy general counsel for the Democratic National Committee.
By the turn of the millennium, Hogan & Hartson had crossed the 1,000-lawyer mark and employed another 1,000 people on staff.
In 2002, Hogan expanded its New York presence by acquiring Squadron Ellenoff Plesent & Sheinfeld. Hogan's New York office had been building since 1998, when partner Warren Gorrell moved into the IBM building at 57th and Madison to advise investment bankers such as Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers on how to make deals that comply with SEC and other federal regulations. By the time Hogan took over Squadron Ellenoff, it had 50 lawyers working in New York. Far from having to worry about sharks, Hogan had become one.
With the Squadron merger, Rupert Murdoch's worldwide journalistic empire, News Corp., became a Hogan & Hartson client. Not every Hogan lawyer was comfortable representing Murdoch's right-wing Fox News; some covered their eyes when the firm had to argue that Fox News's "fair and balanced" slogan was protected under trademark law. "Sometimes you are asked to do things by a client, and you do them," says one attorney.
By2003, Hogan had become the highest-grossing firm in Washington, with its DC partners bringing in $305 million in revenue. Arnold & Porter was a close second at $299 million. Wilmer Cutler grossed $238 million and Covington $210 million. But when the gross was reduced by expenses and divided by the number of partners, Hogan dropped in rank to 16th among Washington's top 20 firms. Its partners earn about $740,000 a year—$50,000 less than those at Wilmer Cutler and $85,000 less than those at Arnold & Porter. At Williams & Connolly, the firm that Hogan might have been, partners earn nearly $855,000 a year on average.
Under Warren Gorrell, revenues have been climbing about 20 percent a year, and Gorrell is determined to bridge the financial gap between Hogan and its competitors.
Still, as the firm marks its 100th year, most partners seem satisfied.
"We all could make more money somewhere else," says partner Janet McDavid. "But we just don't want to."
Washington's Top Law Firms
Besides Hogan & Hartson, here are ten of the biggest and most influential law firms in Washington.
Arnold & Porter. The city's second-largest firm, with 432 lawyers here, was cofounded by former US Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas. Once famous for its work on behalf of prisoners' rights, A&P is now a corporate firm doing lots of financial work. Its 159 partners averaged some $825,000 each in profits last year, according to Legal Times. Former senior partner Jerry Hawke is Comptroller of the Currency, one of the city's most powerful jobs.
Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr. Cofounded by Democratic insider Lloyd Cutler, Wilmer Cutler handles the legal work for many top media and computer companies, including AOL. It recently merged its 338 lawyers in Washington with Boston's Hale & Dorr to create a megafirm that will have more than 1,000 lawyers nationwide. Average profits for its 96 premerger Washington partners were about $790,000 a year.
Covington & Burling. With 311 lawyers in its Pennsylvania Avenue headquarters, C&B is one of the nation's most conservative law firms. It is home to Democrat Eric Holder, a possible attorney general in a Kerry administration. The best-known former partner is NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who steers most of the NFL's litigation—of which there is lots—to his old firm. Covington's 110 partners average $780,000 in annual profit.
Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky. Once known for its representation of airlines—many of which have gone out of business—Dickstein is now more profitable than ever. In a change led by partner Kenneth Adams, Dickstein now takes large class-action suits on contingency. Breaking out of the hourly-rate model has turned Dickstein's 246 lawyers and 82 partners into the highest-earning Washington-based firm. Having won a billion-dollar judgment against vitamin manufacturers for price-fixing, its average profit per partner last year was $2 million.
Howrey Simon Arnold & White. Its 262 lawyers work in the spectacular Warner Theater building used for the filming of The Pelican Brief. One of the top litigation- and trial-practice firms, it was founded by legendary Washington lawyer Ed Howrey. Today partner John Nields is one of the most sought-after defense lawyers by executives in trouble. Howrey's 64 Washington partners earned an average of $1 million in profits each last year.
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Its 227-lawyer Washington contingent is one of the nation's most powerful lobbying and litigation forces. Founding partner Robert Strauss, 85, is still among the most prized legal advisers in the world. From top lobbyist Joel Jankowsky to renowned defense lawyer John Dowd—the man who was hired by baseball to get the facts on Pete Rose—Akin Gump is loaded with big names. Its 66 Washington partners took home an average of $930,000 each last year.
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Headquartered in New York, Skadden now has 233 lawyers in its offices just east of the White House. Its corporate and mergers-and-acquisitions practice is rated tops in the world, and when its clients' executives get in trouble, Robert Bennett—for three decades Washington's go-to defense lawyer—takes over. With its bottom line boosted by its representation of embattled Enron, Skadden's average profit for its 55 Washington partners was $1.6 million.
Patton Boggs. Its 267 lawyers work out of an office on the eastern edge of Georgetown. Headed by Thomas Hale Boggs Jr.—son of the late House majority leader Hale Boggs and his wife and successor in Congress, Lindy Boggs—it is a powerful political force, organizing political-action committee fundraisers and taking the art of lobbying to new heights. One lucrative client is the government of Saudi Arabia. The firm's 86 partners earned an average $635,000 last year.
Wiley Rein & Fielding. The 246 lawyers at Wiley Rein originally focused on FCC matters—founding partner Richard Wiley is the nation's most powerful media attorney. Now the firm also is a major player in transportation and defense issues. Former Nixon counsel Fred Fielding played a key role in staffing the Bush II White House and wields lots of influence with the administration. Its 61 partners averaged a profit of $715,000 each.
Williams & Connolly. With 212 attorneys in a new office building, Williams & Connolly is the nation's premier litigation firm. When you want your case to be tried and not settled, these are the lawyers to call. Brendan Sullivan Jr. is the nation's most talented and aggressive courtroom lawyer. Partner Robert Barnett, whose client list ranges from reporter Bob Woodward to First Ladies Nancy Reagan and Hillary Rodham Clinton, is sought out as a counselor and dealmaker. Average profits for its 83 partners were $855,000 last year, but partners like Barnett and Sullivan make many times that amount.