Cue the Theme Song . . . If Law Firms Were Sitcoms

Law firms can resemble long-running sitcoms. They feature pretty much the same cast year to year, though sometimes a star will bolt for a bigger deal. And some of them follow a plot line that only a Hollywood scriptwriter might imagine.

By: Kim Eisler

Dickstein Shapiro. There aren’t many corporate-type firms where one of the most visible and profitable partners walks around in a bowling shirt and calls in million-dollar deals from a poker table in Las Vegas. Rainmaker Ken Adams isn’t the only Fonzlike character at this Washington institution that keeps bringing in multimillion-dollar judgments. New recruit and former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert will be right at home here.

Show the firm most resembles: Happy Days.

McDermott Will & Emery. First it was Tom DeLay attorney Bobby Burchfield who took the unprecedented leap from Covington & Burling, where he had been managing partner, to McDermott. Then well-known criminal-defense lawyer Abbe Lowell, who had already time-traveled through two other major DC firms, landed here as well.

Show: Quantum Leap.

Katz, Marshall & Banks. When ace employment litigators Debra Katz and Lynne Bernabei were partners, David Marshall moved in—into their law firm, not their apartment. After the dramatic final-season episode in which Bernabei and Katz broke up, the show moved on with replacement partner Lisa Banks taking the Bernabei role.

Show: Three’s Company.

Williams & Connolly. Founder Edward Bennett Williams used to joke that by the time he or his firm took a case, the client was pretty much done for. Otherwise, Williams would say, the client could simply hire “Slobodkin.” In addition to taking tough-to-win cases, Williams & Connolly is the most prominent Washington firm with no PR department. It’s the only firm that, win or lose, disavows any knowledge of its mission.

Show: Mission Impossible.

DiGenova & Toensing. Since leaving the US Attorney’s office, Joe diGenova has hatched a steady stream of career moves, some of which never quite worked out. He finally landed as a partner with Victoria Toensing, his sharp-tongued, levelheaded, respected wife and partner of many years.

Show: The Honeymooners.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Feuding brothers grow up in a dysfunctional household, constantly boxing and picking on each other. One, William Bennett, becomes a prominent Republican, while the other, Skadden’s Robert Bennett, defends a Democratic president who bears some striking similarities to Eddie Haskell.

Show: Leave It to Beaver.

Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll. To go where no law firm has ever gone before, lead partner Michael Hausfeld, much like a famous starship captain, will file suits anyplace for any reason. Novel jurisdictions and unusual causes of action are the trademark of Hausfeld and his bridge officers, Steven Toll and Joe Sellers.

Show: Star Trek.

Cottrell, Fletcher, Schinstock, Bartol & Cottrell. A divorce can be like a wild ride to Fort Courage. The commander of this outpost in Alexandria is VMI grad James Ray Cottrell. Clients are in for a wild, although not-so-funny, ride as Cottrell’s military precision clashes with the messiness of divorce. But at the end, his cavalry charge usually succeeds.

Show: F Troop.

WilmerHale. This is a show all about cultural differences. What happens when a snobby practice from Boston, Hale and Dorr, collides with the hippest firm Washington has ever produced, Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering? The merger has been rocky.

Show: Diff’rent Strokes.

Jack H. Olender & Associates. He once wrote a famous law-review article on identifying cadavers. A skeleton resides prominently in his downtown-DC office. Malpractice maestro Olender may remind people more of Herman Munster, but his practice is strictly The Addams Family.

What other law firms remind you of sitcoms? Let us know in the comments.

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This article appears in the July 2008 issue of Washingtonian. To see more articles in this issue, click here.

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