Forget the Alfalfa Club—the most exclusive group in Washington is the partnership of Williams & Connolly. It’s nearly impossible to gain membership in the top tier of the prominent DC litigation firm, and once lawyers do get in, they almost never leave.
Former partner Gregory Craig—who resigned as White House counsel in November—became a rare exception when he announced he would join the Washington office of Skadden, Arps rather than return to Williams & Connolly, where he’d spent his entire private-sector career. Williams & Connolly senior partner Brendan Sullivan says Craig had “an open invitation” to come back. Sullivan doesn’t recall a partner ever jumping directly to another firm.
What keeps Williams & Connolly partners so loyal in a business where partners routinely change firms in search of fatter paychecks? One likely answer is the firm’s policy of promoting only from within—meaning that lawyers have to start their careers at Williams & Connolly in order to get elevated to partner one day. Says Sullivan: “We all grow up together.”
Only once in 20 years has the firm admitted a partner from outside.
But despite Williams & Connolly’s seemingly ironclad partnership, it turns out Craig isn’t the first to leave for a government job and then go elsewhere on reentering the private sector.
Scott Blake Harris, now general counsel at the Energy Department, left the partnership at Williams & Connolly in 1993 for stints at the Commerce Department and the Federal Communications Commission. When he resigned from the FCC in 1996, he joined Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Harris says he didn’t want to be limited to litigation but instead wanted to focus on telecommunications law.
Robert Litt, currently general counsel for the director of national intelligence, was a partner at Williams & Connolly before serving at both the State and Justice departments. After leaving Justice, Litt chose Arnold & Porter over his former firm.
Another way out of the club is to stop in the corporate world on the way to a new firm. Allen Waxman left Williams & Connolly’s partnership to be general counsel of Pfizer before he landed at Kaye Scholer, where he’s now a partner in the firm’s New York office.
Craig says it didn’t occur to him to consider another firm until Skadden partner Cliff Sloan, a friend of 25 years, told him Skadden was interested. Craig says he chose Skadden because he plans to broaden his practice beyond litigation. Landing a high-profile Beltway player like Craig is a coup for Skadden, which recently lost its biggest Washington name—Robert Bennett—to Hogan & Hartson.